Construction of the Northland Workforce Training Center is rolling along, with the complex preparing to open in August.
Project leaders and elected officials toured the East Side complex on Friday. The training center is the anchor of a Northland Corridor project valued at more than $100 million that is revitalizing the former Niagara Machine and Tool Works building. The 80,000 square foot training center on Northland Avenue is aimed at preparing workers to fill manufacturing jobs.
"This is probably one of the most transformational projects to happen in this community in decades," said Mayor Byron Brown, who was joined by state Sen. Tim Kennedy, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Project leaders celebrated a construction milestone: the installation of the first set of 156 replica historic windows. The windows are designed to preserve the look of the Niagara Machine and Tool Works building, which dates to 1911. The National Parks Service has listed the site on the National Register of Historic Places, which moves the project closer to obtaining $19 million in state and federal historic tax credits.
Hochul said the Northland project, part of the Cuomo administration's Buffalo Billion initiative, is proof that the East Side is part of revival plans for the city.
"I hear the criticism that is levied when people say, 'Oh, there's only attention on certain parts of the city for the comeback,'" she said. "Since day one, the governor and I have said that will never be the case. We will never leave [behind] a neighborhood, particularly areas of high need, like the East Side of Buffalo. They are going to be part of this economic recovery. That has been our commitment and today is a symbol of that commitment."
Peoples-Stokes said the center will be essential to train people to fill openings created by an anticipated wave of retirements in the manufacturing sector. She said she hopes to see the training center be a resource not only for unemployed people, but underemployed people who need training to move into higher-paying jobs with benefits.
"There is an enormous population of people in our community, in particular on the East Side, who work in low wage jobs," Peoples-Stokes said. "Sometimes they work two or three jobs in order to survive, for their families to survive. Those are the people who need training."
Stephen Tucker, the training center's president and CEO, issued a "call to action" to people who have been seeking the kinds of job training the center will provide.
"It is now up to you to take the first step to take advantage of this opportunity, so you can participate in this outstanding progress that's happening in our community, so you can acquire jobs in advanced manufacturing and energy with average salaries of $47,000 to $50,000 a year," Tucker said.
Tucker said the center has been recruiting students to enroll and putting them through academic testing. "We've conducted probably over 150 information sessions over the first three months. We've engaged over 1,000 people." Of those, 500 people have signed up to learn more, and center staff has met one-on-one with 130 people, he said.
The center's staff is set to move into the building July 1, with the first training classes set to start around September. Tucker said the goal is to eventually enroll 300 students annually.
In addition to the training center, the Northland complex will become home to Buffalo Manufacturing Works, which assists businesses with innovation, as well as Insyte Consulting and the Buffalo Niagara Manufacturing Alliance. Project leaders pointed out a corner of the complex where Gigi's restaurant will reopen.
"What we really want to do is create an advanced manufacturing corridor similar to the medical campus," Tucker said. "We believe by having expertise in workforce development, innovation, research as well as process improvement, we're going to use it as an economic development driver to attract manufacturers from outside the region."
Another element of the Northland Corridor project is set to begin outside. A $5.7 million Northland Avenue streetscape project is set to begin on Monday, repaving the street and installing new curbs, sidewalks and streetlights.
"The Northland streetscape work will create a new front door to the Northland Workforce Training Center, and create safe passages for people coming here for training and residents of the community," Brown said.
Northland Avenue between Fillmore Avenue and Grider Street will be closed while the streetscape work is under way. That stretch of Northland is expected to reopen in late August, said city engineer Michael Finn.