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Another Voice: 'Small ball' leads to economic wins

By Bob Richardson
There is plenty of buzz surrounding Amazon’s search for a second headquarters and the thousands of jobs that come with it. Admittedly, it’s a long shot, since countless U.S. and Canadian cities are also in pursuit of what would be an economic grand slam.

While swinging for the fences makes headlines, when it comes to economic development, Buffalo and its surrounding communities have found success by playing “small ball” – hitting singles and focusing on advancing those areas that are thriving.

In the past, our region has taken unrealistic approaches to economic development, usually with disappointing results.

Excellent examples of how small ball can succeed can also be found in the Town of Hamburg’s successful efforts to revitalize the village and develop new capacity for business attraction.

Between 2008 and 2010, local businesses were expanding into Hamburg’s industrial park, which was rapidly running out of space. That prompted Town Supervisor Steve Walters and his team to come up with an innovative plan to acquire a large parcel of property for future economic development.

They created a land development corporation and purchased 170 acres for what is now known as the Lake Erie Commerce Center. It has been developed as one of the few pre-permitted sites in Erie County and all of Western New York.

Because of the town’s forethought, FedEx now occupies 57 acres. The company built a 310,000-square-foot main facility and three smaller buildings. The town’s pre-permitting – preparing for success – created the opportunity.

The redevelopment of the Village of Hamburg is also a regional model for revitalization and using economic development small ball to get big wins. Creating pockets of success and expanding from them is the art of small ball in real estate.

As of late, Buffalo has scored some economic development runs: the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where the new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and the University at Buffalo Medical School are about to open, is a relevant example. While the Medical Campus may seem like a grand slam, it’s really the principles of small ball at work – creating a pocket of economic strength and expanding upon it. The impact the Medical Campus has on Buffalo is the result of many small victories compounded.

In the City of Buffalo, people are once again investing in neighborhoods like the Elmwood Village, the Hertel strip and the waterfront, where businesses are breathing new life into those communities, property values are up and more people are moving in – small victories compounded.

In baseball, there’s nothing more dramatic than a walk-off home run. But moving runners around the bases with singles wins games, pennants and championships. The same is true for economic development.

While we’re taking a swing at Amazon HQ2, let’s remember what created the resurgence of Buffalo – going small.

Bob Richardson is a partner at Blue Cardinal Capital and president of the Commercial Real Estate Association, Upstate New York Chapter.


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