Spreading the Buffalo Billion around
State funds will help Buffalo and potentially each resident
Larry Bogad, a UC Davis professor and artist, performed his ‘Economusic’ set for the Performing Economies colloquium. ‘Economusic’ blends live music set to various economic data. Jordan Oscar, The Spectrum
Buffalo is finally receiving the $1 billion committed to redevelopment projects promised by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo two years ago.
The state budget passed last week included a provision for the remaining $680 million guaranteed under Cuomo's "Buffalo Billion" initiative developed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. With these funds in hand, work is slated to begin on the Buffalo Billion proposals, which include plans for an IT Innovation Hub, an Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Competitiveness, tourism to Niagara Falls and workforce training.
The provision of funds for this unprecedented program has been and should continue to be extolled across the region. The influx of so large a sum of state funds to improve a languishing region with less than half the population it had some 50 years ago will certainly be beneficial.
But approaching the news with only bright eyes stymies warranted skepticism on the distribution of this generous grant.
As anxieties over whether Cuomo would pull off his almost too-good-to-be-true plan begin to fade, euphoria has taken hold. The plan itself centers on a handful of proposals meant to stimulate the economy by building upon existing assets in higher-end manufacturing, research and development.
For all its positive prescriptions, the plan at times falls into potentially less realistic plans.
A proposal to stimulate tourism to the Niagara Falls region, fueled by a $40 million competition for designs and developments for the area, sounds optimistic at first blush. Though the Falls offer an entry point for a more significant impact from tourism in the depressed Niagara Falls downtown, it is naturally an industry dominated by lower-wage jobs.
Plans for an IT Innovation and Commercialization Hub and Medical Innovation and Commercialization Hub aim at generating higher-end technology and medical advances, creating both employment and (hopefully) spill-over effects for further developments. Plans like the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Competitiveness and 43North Business Plan Competition seek to work with existing businesses to improve access to equipment and services and bring innovative business ideas to Buffalo, respectively.
These commercialization hubs will doubtlessly bring new talent to the region and help retain STEM talent graduating from UB, mitigating the problematic trend in which alumni shuffle off campus and out of Buffalo in search of careers elsewhere.
The proposals to stimulate growth from existing manufacturing centers and bring new ventures to the city for a minimum of one year are meant to spur employment in robust industries.
The Buffalo Billion will surely help revive Buffalo, but with its implementation upon us, care for the lowest rungs of society is essential. Beyond notions of development trickling down to those most in need, programs like a center for workforce training and development deserve focus and interrogation to ensure all Buffalonians are served by this influx of capital.
Improving Buffalo schools, transportation infrastructure, food security and addressing structural socioeconomic plight in this region have received short shrift compared to more grandiose plans. All must be of primary focus if these funds are to fundamentally change Buffalo from a declining city to a reemerging one.
For political reasons or not, Cuomo has fulfilled his end of the bargain - the plans are made and the money is in hand. What happens with the implementation is up to us.
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