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Buffalo's largest businesses launch new project to spur regional growth

Several of Buffalo’s largest businesses have a new plan to boost investment in the region: invite a select group of expats back to their hometown and dazzle them with evidence of its revival for a weekend.

The initiative, dubbed “Buffalo Homecoming,” was announced Tuesday morning by sponsors including Delaware North, M&T Bank, Pegula Sports and Entertainment and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Over one three-day weekend in mid-September, those organizations and more than 20 others plan to treat a handpicked group of 100 to 150 Buffalo natives to a series of meet-and-greets and tours designed to convince them to invest in the region.

The initiative is closely modeled on a similar program in Detroit, sponsored by Crain’s Detroit Business, which began in 2013 and claims to have drawn $212 million in investment to southeast Michigan.

“One of the jokes my brother and I used to say is ... ‘the only thing harder than getting somebody to move to Buffalo was getting them to leave,’ ” said Jerry Jacobs Jr., the co-chief executive officer of Delaware North. “And there’s some truth to that. So hopefully as people come back, as Buffalonians return, they reconnect with our community, they see what’s happening here, they get reinvigorated – that will generate the investment and returns we have seen in Detroit.”

Business leaders pitch the event as a chance to capitalize on one of Buffalo’s most-squandered resources: locals who have left, established successful careers and gone on to spend their money and pay taxes elsewhere.

Between 2010 and 2017, Erie and Niagara counties lost 25,000 people to out-migration, according to the most recent census figures. Fifty-five percent of Western New York’s college graduates also leave the region after commencement, according to Emsi, a national labor analytics firm.

By connecting some of those expats with local businesses and policymakers from September 11 to 13, homecoming organizers say they hope to encourage them to reinvest in Buffalo, whether through real estate purchases, start-up investments or pro-Buffalo chatter when they return to their own cities.

The event will not be open to any expat who has left. Jack Connors, the co-director of Buffalo Homecoming and publisher emeritus of Buffalo Business First, said organizers will invite wealthy potential investors, entrepreneurs and individuals who are “up and coming” in their respective professions.

They have already collected the names of 300 potential invitees from the alumnae offices of local universities and high schools, and will also accept nominations on their website, BuffaloHomecoming.com.

Organizers are in the early stages of planning the weekend's itinerary, as well. Tours of the Northland Corridor, Larkinville, Canalside and Seneca and Niagara streets are all expected to make the agenda.

“Anyplace there’s been development, we want to show them,” Connors said.

“This is really an economic development initiative more than anything else,” he added.

In that vein, organizers say they don’t intend their homecoming to actually lure expats back to Buffalo to live. That differentiates it from past “homecoming” initiatives, such as Invest Buffalo Niagara’s “Missing You” postcard drive or the volunteer-run Old Home Week and Citybration events that drew thousands of visitors between 2006 and 2013.

Marti Gorman, who organized both of those events, said she still thinks it’s important to bring expats back permanently in order to “stabilize the population.”

“But I think this is a wonderful project,” she said. “They will do a great job with it.”

Other event sponsors include the Martin Group, 43North, KeyBank, Launch NY, Buffalo Business First and Invest Buffalo Niagara.

The Wilson Foundation was also an early sponsor of Detroit's homecoming project.

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