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Partnership touts wins on ride-hailing, worker's comp

Dottie Gallagher-Cohen says there's a lot for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership to be happy about.

The business advocacy group she leads was part of statewide efforts that will result in lower worker's compensation premiums for companies and helped convince Albany to allow ride-hailing services to operate across upstate New York.

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At home, the Partnership launched new initiatives to improve the skills of the region's shrinking workforce, set up reciprocal membership arrangements with Canadian chambers of commerce in Hamilton and Niagara Falls, Ont.,  and expanded its own efforts to attract young professionals to the business group.

"We've had a fantastic year," Gallagher-Cohen said during the Partnership's annual report to its members on Thursday.

But even with a growing sense of optimism that the Buffalo Niagara region has started to break out of the economic doldrums that have constrained the business community for the last four decades, Gallagher-Cohen said this is not the time to let up on efforts to improve the local business climate.

"We can't coast. We can't get passive," she said, even with the number of jobs in the Buffalo Niagara region at an all-time high.

Region's job total increases slightly in May

Despite those gains, Gallagher-Cohen noted that employment growth in the Buffalo Niagara region has been less than half of the national increase since the recovery began in 2010. Partnership officials said the cost of doing business in the Buffalo Niagara region remains high.

"Compared to the rest of the country, we're still struggling," she said.

Gallagher-Cohen cited highlights and upcoming initiatives, including:

*The creation this spring of the Partnership's Employ Buffalo Niagara initiative aimed at identifying the type of job skills that local employers need from their workers and helping to shape local job training programs so that they meet those demands.

The Partnership plans to host a workforce development summit on Oct. 12.

"The workforce system is broken, not only in this area, but around the country," Gallagher-Cohen said.

The initiative will first focus on the job skills that are in demand from manufacturers, with plans to expand it to include the health care and hospitality sectors, said Laura Smith, the Partnership's vice president for economic development.

*An expanded relationship with chambers in Hamilton and Niagara Falls, Ont., that is aimed at encouraging cross-border trade and developing more extensive ties between businesses here and in southern Ontario.

"Business doesn't stop at the border," said Liz Benkovich, the Partnership's senior director of member engagement and development.

*Advocacy efforts, in connection with other business groups, led to the first drop in worker's compensation premiums in a decade, with premiums expected to drop by an average of 4.5 percent.

The Partnership also was part of a coalition of groups that lobbied Albany to allow ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, to operate upstate.

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