Buffalo Building Reuse Project: reinventing downtown

In 2012, faced with more than 2 million square feet of vacant and underutilized commercial space, downtown Buffalo was at a crossroads.

Real estate values were treading water and there was a growing residential population that had yet to reach the critical mass of a neighborhood, presenting an opportunity for reinvention.

At the request of Mayor Byron Brown, the Partnership led a broad collaboration between public and private sectors to plan for the revitalization of our urban core: the Buffalo Building Reuse Project (BBRP.)

Fast forward to 2014: significant progress has been made in downtown Buffalo.

The Partnership and the City, with the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) as the primary coordinating agency, have led a comprehensive implementation program with the goal of re-purposing vacant and underutilized commercial space to stimulate a stronger real estate market.

BUDC-2007 logoThe following are key components of this program underway:

Downtown Coordinator: In 2013, BUDC created its first staff position wholly dedicated to downtown. The downtown coordinator serves as a resource for all things downtown including development assistance, infrastructure planning and collaboration among stakeholders.

Special Issues: In December of 2013, the Partnership hosted a developers forum with Mayor Brown focused on obstacles facing downtown residential development.

The forum resulted in the establishment of three special issue committees which have been active for six months: problem properties/code enforcement, real estate assessments and retail strategies.

Infrastructure Funding: More than $6 million has been dedicated to improving the streets of downtown Buffalo, with the priority of leveraging private development projects.

Downtown Gap Financing Fund: The City of Buffalo has dedicated more than $5 million in public funding to the Buffalo Building Reuse Project Revolving Loan Fund which provides low interest gap financing loans to private development projects.

As presently capitalized, funds are short term repayments. As funding increases, it is envisioned to also provide long term debt and grants for pre-development assistance such as asbestos remediation.

Tishman Building

Tishman building

Buffalo Building Reuse Projects in action: In 2013, two projects were leveraged through this program: the Hamister Group’s Tishman Building and TM Montante’s Planing Mill.

Public Realm Master Plan: With funding provided by National Grid and National Fuel, a Downtown Public Realm Master Plan will set the course for public improvements that will help transform the downtown area into a more livable place.

We have hired international planning and urban design consultants led by Urban Strategies to complete the project.

Core recommendations will include:

  • prioritizing micro-neighborhoods within downtown that have exceptional potential as mixed use and residential districts
  • project selection criteria to guide which projects to complete first
  • design guidelines to establish a design vocabulary for streetscapes and public spaces

The project is 50% complete and will be re-engaging stakeholders in August.

BNMC

Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus [photo credit: BNMC]

What’s to come moving forward?

The framework is set for downtown’s revitalization and we have already witnessed success.

The development of the waterfront and the Buffalo Niagara medical campus showcase the tremendous growth the region is already experiencing.

The next step is to continue that growth in the core of the city to accelerate downtown’s rebirth and re-shape its identity as the economic engine of the region.

As industry leaders, it is critical that the private sector community takes charge of shaping the “New Buffalo.” We need to continue this leadership to bring about real change.

To revitalize the urban core, our business community must be involved in our investments in public and private projects, collaborate with peers and political leaders and commit resources for the betterment of the city.

It has been working thus far, let’s ramp it up!

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Immigration: bringing cultural vitality and economic growth to Buffalo Niagara

With immigration hotly debated in the headlines, I feel it’s important to thoughtfully examine and recognize the economic impacts of the foreign-born, as immigration is an integral part of our country and city’s past, present and future.

Immigrants Graphic - Source IEDC

In early June, in collaboration with the International Institute of Buffalo, we hosted Steve Tobocman (Executive Director of Global Detroit) and Melissa Bertolo (Program Coordinator of Welcome Dayton) for a conversation on how their cities are working to welcome and support immigrants as part of their economic development strategies.

After spending time with them, I was struck by the fact that immigrants and refugees truly hold unparalleled potential for the Buffalo Niagara region.

We’ve heard from our members that the region’s immigrants are an asset to their labor force, bringing both soft and technical skills to their facilities. Moreover, our members are looking to capitalize on the region’s growing foreign born student population as a highly skilled talent pipeline.

I’ve seen more and more the riches in cultural vitality that immigrants bring to Buffalo: a renewed vibrancy along the Grant Street corridor spurred by foreign-born entrepreneurs, delicious restaurants in neighborhoods across the region, and events like Buffalo without Borders and Taste of Diversity which embrace the city’s evolving multiculturalism.

These observations, in conjunction with employers’ clamor for sensible immigration policies, clearly address the need for a reliable and legal supply of foreign born talent and have led to me to think about immigration reform less of a hot button political issue and more as an economic development driver.

Immigrant Graphic 2 - Source IEDCWanting more evidence to underpin this theory, I turned to the International Economic Development Council’s recent research paper, “The Economic Development Impacts of Immigrationwhich underlines everything I’ve been seeing and hearing:

  • Immigrants supplement the workforce where it is most needed
  • Immigrants create jobs through entrepreneurship, innovation and investment

As the regional chamber of commerce, we have been working with our partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition to address this issue at the federal level, while conversing with local partners about how our region can better leverage our burgeoning foreign born population. 

Please join me as we continue the conversation on 8 a.m. on Wednesday, July 30 as I host expert panelists Jeff Lungren, Director of Congressional and Public Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Eva Hassett of the International Institute of Buffalo, to discuss the business case on immigration reform and why Buffalo Niagara needs to Washington D.C. to act!

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Border Crossing 101

One of the best parts about living in the Buffalo Niagara region during the summer is our ability to easily cross the border to spend cottage season in Canada.

While the majority of border crossings are hassle-free and take approximately 5-10 minutes, it only takes one bad experience to overshadow the easy experiences we’ve had in the past and put a damper on the fun and excitement of a trip across the border.

Customs agents are human beings tasked with the difficult job of protecting our nations’ borders.

bryan logistics blog photo march 19Each day they see thousands of people and, while you are most likely a legitimate traveler with no harmful intentions, it is their duty to keep people they see as a threat from crossing the border while still allowing for legitimate trade and travel between countries.

In addition to being respectful and patient with customs agents, the following tips can help expedite your next trip across the border:

Check which bridge to cross: The Peace Bridge was part of a major border wait times technology pilot under the Obama-Harper Beyond the Border Action Plan, as jointly administered by the Federal Highway Administration and Transport Canada. That pilot was successful, has been fully implemented and is now being operated by the Peace Bridge Authority.

The system, using Bluetooth technology, provides accurate, real-time border wait times. It is updated automatically, reported every five minutes and can be easily accessed by the public.

Have the proper documentation needed to cross the border: Both American and Canadian citizens are required to present a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)-compliant document for entry into the United States.

  • For travelers 16 years of age and older these include: Enhanced Driver’s License; Enhanced Non-Driver Identification; NEXUS Card; Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551); Passport; U.S. Passport Card.
  • Children under 15 years of age need a copy of their birth certificate.
  • If traveling with children who are not part of your immediate family, have a note from the child’s parents which states that their child has permission to cross the border with you and includes telephone numbers where the children’s parents can be reached.

When arriving at the booth: Turn off your radio, roll down front and back windows, remove sunglasses and make eye contact with the agent.

Always be truthful: Declare all fruits, vegetables, plants and plant products, animals, birds, eggs and meat products, as well as any purchases made. Having knowledge of your duty free allowances before crossing will help you be prepared at the booth. Note: many times, there will be no duty charge or the charge will still be minimal to what you paid for it.

Declare all items acquired for personal use.

Do not fool around: Both Canadian and American Customs and Immigration agents are law enforcement officials who take their responsibilities very seriously. Approach inspection booths slowly, follow signage instructions and answer all questions directly and honestly.

Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Know your dates, travel plans, and destination.

Crossing the border does not have to be hard, intimidating or time-consuming. Openness, honesty and respect go a long way with customs agents, and applying the best practices listed above should help expedite your next trip across the border.

For the fastest crossing, I recommend the NEXUS Card.

The Canada Border Services Agency recently announced the establishment of a 24/7 NEXUS lane heading into Canada at the Peace Bridge.

NEXUS expedites the border clearance process for low-risk, pre-approved travelers into Canada and the United States. NEXUS dedicated customs inspection lanes are available in the Niagara Region at the Peace Bridge and Rainbow Bridge, in addition to the Whirlpool-Rapids Bridge which can only be used by NEXUS holders.
*Worth noting is that the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge does not have dedicated NEXUS lanes.

The NEXUS program just announced their 1 millionth member since its start 12 years ago. At only $50.00 for five years of use, it is well worth the purchase.

If you are a Buffalo Niagara Partnership member interested in a NEXUS card, contact me to discuss further.

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Temporary fix for highways in the works

highwayAs the Highway Trust Fund nears insolvency in the coming weeks, the House has passed a bill that will extend funding for about 10 months.

The $11 million extension will temporarily avoid the uncertainty in funding for major surface infrastructure projects, but a long term fix is desperately needed.

With Congress approaching its summer recess, the Senate is only expected to pass the House’s version of the bill.

The Highway Trust Fund is the primary source of funding for surface infrastructure construction and repair projects, and was a major focus in the Partnership’s inaugural Transportation Summit in May.

Speakers like Janet Kavinoky, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director of Transportation & Infrastructure, and Gregory Nadeau, the Federal Highway Administration’s Deputy Administrator, argued strongly for a long-term funding solution.

The temporary extension buys Congress several months, specifically until after this November’s elections, to hash out a longer term solution.

One of the more popular suggestions for funding has been raising the national gas tax, which at 18.4 cents per gallon, has not been raised since 1993. As cars have become significantly more fuel-efficient, the Fund’s primary source of income has failed to keep pace with construction needs. However, In an election year, many politicians are particularly adamant about not raising taxes.

Allowing the Fund to go bankrupt would be devastating to the economy, resulting in the loss of roughly 700,000 construction jobs as states would be forced to cut back infrastructure projects.

The passage of this bill avoids that outcome for now, but it is imperative that Congress comes up with a solution that will stabilize funding for years to come. Infrastructure is not often the first issue on people’s minds these days, but it is critical to the nation’s well-being and to the business community.

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The Great Lakes Metro Chamber Coalition, of which the Partnership is a co-founder and steering committee member, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have both advocated for extensions of the Highway Trust Fund, and we join them in recognizing Congress for not letting the Fund go bankrupt.

However, it is not enough to view this 10 month funding program as a complete victory; all three of our organizations will now push for a long term solution with reliable funding sources to restore our nation’s roads and bridges.  What that reliable funding source (or sources) will be remains to be determined.

There are several actions that community members can take to ensure a funding solution is reached.

First, write your Congressperson demonstrating the importance of infrastructure is crucial. On the state level, supporting cost-reducing programs such as Design-Build, and supporting reforms to the Scaffold Law will greatly reduce project costs here in New York.

A new funding solution should support cost-cutting programs, while establishing long-term funding sources like the gas tax and others, to make much needed improvements to our decaying infrastructure systems.

The Partnership has taken action throughout this year to push for more infrastructure investment, with the previously mentioned Transportation Summit, as well as hosting the TRIP Press Conference in February. TRIP’s New York State infrastructure analysis can be seen here.

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Networking is the key

We live in an ever-changing technological world, filled with the latest and greatest ways to get in touch with customers fast.

As these trends come and go, one thing will never go out of style – networking.

Face to face conversation is still one of the best ways to ensure new business and business retention, which is why a majority of the events the Partnership hosts each year include a networking component.

networking1Whether allowing time before an event begins, or creating events that are specifically designed for networking (such as our Scramble Networking Series), our events offer attendees the opportunity to interact with other members who have similar goals.

We understand that it can be uncomfortable to approach business professionals and start a conversation, which is exactly why we created the Scramble Networking Series – to provide attendees with the opportunity to expand their network by connecting with others in a comfortable setting.

The series is great for young professionals, sales managers, marketing professionals, and anyone interested in expanding his or her network.

“The Scramble event was well-organized and low-key.  It managed to take a task that seems daunting to many professionals (building a network) and transform it into an evening of fun conversations with lots of new and interesting people.  By the end of the night, I found that I had “networked” despite myself, and walked away with many new contacts that I didn’t have before.”  – Joanna Dickinson from #BNPMember, Phillips Lytle

We recently wrapped up this year’s Scramble Networking Series, which included three separate networking events over breakfast, lunch and cocktails.

networking2At the breakfast and lunch events, attendees rotated tables during each course, discussing different topics and answeing questions provided by the Partnership.

At our cocktail event, guests were asked to network with several people based off a sheet of names they were provided with at the start of the event.

“I was able to attend all three of the Scramble events which made the Cocktails event even more effective for me… Because of the prior sessions, I was able to approach a group with someone I had met previously at a BN360 event and engage in conversation with the whole group. The “find the person lists” also helped to ease the awkwardness of approaching a group of new people. Through all three of the events, I was able to not only broaden my professional network, but learn a great deal about other Buffalo businesses and their key values and concerns.” – Lauren Glose from #BNPMember, Wendel

While our members benefit from discounted pricing for all of our events (and the opportunity to attend many for free), non-members are welcome to attend our events as well.

At our last Scramble event, Ellen Cahill, Board President for Road Less Traveled Productions, attended. She gained so much from the event the organization is planning on joining The Partnership next month.

networking blog 1“In order to meet our mission of fiscal responsibility and community inclusion, non-profits, too, must work at business development. I had some lovely conversations at the event and the experience reiterated the true value of being a partnership member.” – Ellen Cahill from Road Less Traveled Productions

We have already secured the dates and venues for the 2015 Scramble networking series, so mark your calendar now:

  • 8 – 10 a.m., February 25 at The Marriott (Amherst)
  • 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., April 14 at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens
  • 5:30 – 8 p.m. on June 30 at The Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls

Have questions or want to sign up as a Partnership member to take advantage of decreased ticket prices? Contact Charlene Janiga at 716-541-1770.

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BN360: advancing the region’s young professionals

The 2013-2014 year marked the sixth year of Buffalo Niagara 360, the region’s premier young professionals organization.

This year was not only one of our busiest, but also one of our most enjoyable and interesting due to our program lineup.

young professionalsOver 800 young professionals participated in various events focused on professional development, community engagement and business networking.

Some of the highlights for the year include:

We have two additional upcoming events that you won’t want to miss out on:

May 19 blog photoOn Thursday, July 17 we will host the season’s last Happy Hour for a Cause: Christmas in July. This annual fundraiser will support B Team Buffalo’s holiday event “City of Light.”

Register today and don’t forget bring a toy for donation!
All attendees who donate a toy will be entered into a raffle for gift baskets from Road Less Traveled ProductionsBuffalo Spree and BikeorBar!

 

Our final event of the year is a happy hour at Resurgence Brewery on August 6. Joined by the Canadian Consulate and Emerging Business Leaders, we will educate young professionals on NEXUS Niagara and the importance of bi-national relations.

We are busy (and excited) planning the 2014-2015 season which will kick off with a Professional Development week starting September 15, 2014! There are several events scheduled throughout the week, all leading up to our BN360 season Kickoff Celebration!

Getting excited? Renew your membership (with Charlene Janiga at 716-541-1770) and register for the kickoff today!

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Immigration reform: join the discussion

Last month, I blogged about how immigrants and refugees are catalysts to economic growth.

June 11 small biz statCities across the country are beginning to see the growing trend of in-migration and are taking action to attract and retain this growing population.

Given the critical need across the country for world-class talent, it’s not surprising that major companies from around the country (and here in our region) are clamoring for sensible, employer-friendly immigration reform.

To remain globally competitive, the United States must have a reliable and legal supply of foreign born talent.

Unfortunately, the positive economic impact of immigrants to our economy is often lost in the heated debate over comprehensive immigration reform.

Questions arise such as: Why is there such a demand? What can the business community do to address the demand for highly skilled labor while a nation-wide schism over immigration is rapidly widening? 

June 11 Immigrants photo1 TO USE

International Institute of Buffalo works to place refugees with jobs at local businesses such as Lloyd Taco Truck

As the regional chamber of commerce, we have been working with our partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition to address this issue at the federal level, while conversing with local partners about how our region can better leverage our burgeoning foreign born population. 

Join Partnership President & CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen at 8 a.m. on July 30 as she hosts expert panelists, such as Jeff Lungren, Director of Congressional and Public Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the business case for immigration reform and its implications for Buffalo Niagara.

Register today to get #InTheKnow on why CEO’s of leading U.S. companies are calling on Congress to act on immigration reform in 2014.

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Annual advocacy highlights

Late June marked the end of both the Partnership’s fiscal year and New York’s legislative session.

On June 24, 2014, our President & CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen hosted the Partnership’s Annual Report, where she shared our highlights for the year as well as her vision for moving both the Partnership and our region forward.

BCP infographicIt was an exciting day, as we had the opportunity to showcase the impactful year we had.

In the world of government relations, we had a tremendous year, as we were able to accomplish a number of priority items from our Regional Agenda and State Legislative Action Agenda.

There’s always more work to be done, as evident from the list of agenda items that have yet to be completed, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the positive impact we had this year:

  • Brownfield Cleanup Program: We’re thrilled to report a two year extension to the BCP has passed the Legislature and has the Governor’s support. Getting this program extended was a major priority of ours to ensure the continuance of dozens of regional development projects. However, we still need the Governor to sign the bill into law, and the program still needs a full 10-year extension authorized next year.
  • NYS Tax relief and reform: One of the best things to come out of this year’s budget was addressing New York’s crushing tax burden, especially on manufacturers. The tax cuts stemmed directly from recommendations from Unshackle Upstate’s New E.R.A. for Upstate agenda. One of the key points of this relief was an accelerated reduction and elimination of the energy tax known as the “18a surcharge”, a longtime Partnership priority that was created in 2009. (A BIG reason we’ll be involved in the State Senate races this November!)
  • Political Action: Speaking of elections, we endorsed and supported Mayor Byron Brown for re-election in 2013 and also supported two reform minded candidates for the 2014 Buffalo School Board: Larry Quinn and Patti Pierce, both of whom were elected. quinn and pierce garphic
  • Peace Bridge Pre-Authorization pilot goes live: We fought hard for cargo pre-inspection to reduce wait times at the border.
  • WRRDA & HMTF: The Water Resources Reform & Development Act and Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund were key issues for the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition. With President Obama’s signature on WRRDA, we established ourselves as a regional powerhouse in Washington when it comes to Great Lakes issues.
  • Bad Bills: Near the end of session in Albany, there’s always a glut of “bad” legislation that is proposed, and sometimes passed, in the crunch to “get things done” before adjourning for the year. The Partnership, in coalition with many other Upstate business organizations, successfully lobbied against bills that would create taxpayer-funded campaign programs, prevailing wage mandates, anti-call center legislation, paid family leave, sick family leave, over burdensome chemical regulation programs, and so on.

As the Partnership continues to advocate for its members and the Buffalo Niagara business community, I encourage you to stay involved in our efforts by visiting our advocacy page, following our blog, and staying tapped in to our advocacy related-events.

To view the digital version of our Annual Report, click here.

Thanks for your support in our advocacy efforts on your behalf!

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Dream It, Do It WNY: Annual highlights

Have you heard about Dream It, Do It WNY?

Dream It, Do It WNY (DIDI WNY) is a private-sector led, state-supported initiative designed to engage, educate and employ the next generation of advanced manufacturing talent by encouraging young people to pursue post-secondary opportunities with a plan and a purpose.

didi graphic 1As a program driver for the initiative in Erie and Niagara counties, the Partnership was pleased to recently roll-out the program’s 2013/14 highlights:

  • 1,440 career fairs
  • 823 hands-on, in-classroom presentations
  • 458 technology tours
  • 455 career presentations
  • 374 adults impacted by DIDI WNY adult learner presentations
  • 300 “tech wars”
  • 110 speaker series

didi graphic 2DIDI WNY provides a platform for collaboration between industry leaders and educators, with the goal of engaging young people about the continuum of career pathways in advanced manufacturing.

Since the launch of the program in January 2013, 6,400 students have been impacted in Erie and Niagara counties.

This year, through DIDI WNY, 31 industry manufacturers collaborated with 22 high schools and 10 middle schools.

That number will only continue to grow, as DIDI WNY expands through various initiatives:

  • Backed by a $10,000 grant from the Motorola Foundation, DIDI WNY will present Young Manufacturers Academy in collaboration with Erie Community College. This five-day camp will feature VEX Robotics, mechanical and electrical engineering, biomanufacturing and hands-on CNC projects utilizing 3D software and printing technologies. We encourage our manufacturing members to join us from 1-3 p.m. on Friday, July 25 at Erie County Community College to watch our “young manufacturers” present their final projects to industry leaders and educators.
  • A partnership with Mayor Byron Brown’s Summer Youth Internship Program to provide more than 20 paid summer interns to eight manufacturing companies.
  • In the 2014-2015 school year, partner school district Lakeshore Central will add a new tech class called Exploring Manufacturing with DIDI WNY, which will double the school’s tech-related student count. Similarly, due to increasing student interest, partner school districts Williamsville North and Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda will each add an additional tech class.

To view the entire presentation of DIDI WNY’s annual highlights, click here.

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Hiring Our Heroes

Historically, veterans have a strong pattern of positive employment outcomes and are celebrated for their leadership, team-building and advanced technical training skills.

As the regional chamber of commerce, we understand the importance of supporting initiatives like Hiring Our Heroes that provide our members with information needed to help them connect with, and recruit, America’s Veterans.

Through Hiring our Heroes, the US Chamber of Commerce has created a number of resources for Veterans and employers.

One such resource is the Employer Roadmap, which helps employers navigate the programs and services available to find the talent their business needs.

hiring our heroesOn June 19, 2014, we partnered with the US Chamber of Commerce, New York National Guard, NYS Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training Service, Goodwill Industries (and the WNY Chapter,) and the American Legion to host the Hiring Our Heroes job fair.

The job fair was part of the US Chamber of Commerce and Capital One’s Hiring 500,000 initiative to work with businesses to make a commitment to hiring 500,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014.

Joined by 66 employers, including 20 Partnership members, we helped inform 150 veterans and their spouses on the current employment landscape and available positions in the Buffalo Niagara region.

We will continue to work with such initiatives to ensure that regional employers are aware of the various resources available to help them find, hire, train, and employ some of America’s most valued and skilled work-ready individuals – our veterans.

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