Tag Archives: BNE

Sense of Place, For Real

4 Dec

While the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors’ Bureau is busy attracting geriatric architecture nerds to come and look at cornices and decorative concrete, the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise is doing this: 

There is no mention of “sense of place” or that “this place matters”. There is no talk of “for real“, or Buffalo being more authentic than other places. There is a complete absence of talking heads praising our unmatched street grid or making completely ignorant claims about Buffalo having the only water sunsets west of the Pacific. The CVB’s “For Real” series of videos, hosted by local musician Nelson Starr, are better at showing off the people and things to do in the region, but the signature pieces are pedantic and verbose. 

What this simple video from a local business development agency does that the CVB hasn’t been able to articulate is what makes Buffalo different and attractive. Yes, I realize that it was developed for a wholly different purpose and a completely different audience. But the message and its delivery are matter-of-fact, and emphasize people having fun in our natural and built environments; not the environments themselves. 

Nice work, BNE. You made Buffalo seem like a nice place to live, work, and play. 

Chipping Away at the WNY Status Quo

12 Feb

It has much more impact when a Larry Quinn says it, and what he says is beyond perfect.

Jim Heaney explains the background of this letter:

As I report in today’s paper, a committee of mostly former City Hall insiders has been meeting since last fall to consider ways to fix City Hall’s cluster-you-know-what management of its economic development and block grant programs.

As I reported in October, the group is populated with a lot of the same folks who had a hand in creating the problems they are now being asked to fix.

The results are predicable — hire better people, get the bureaucracy working better and address the obvious problems.

In other words, blah, blah, blah.

Here is Larry Quinn’s letter in response:

City administration after city administration has failed.  State government has failed.  County government has failed.  They have failed to address the root problems in favor of doling out patronage and – well, favors.  They choose to argue over insignificant crumbs rather than band together to make actual progress or address genuine problems.  Doing so would buck the status quo, and we can’t have that.  To be conscientious and competent in government here in WNY is rare, and oftentimes punished.

But the same can be said of what passes for a fractured and broken “business community” here, where the predominant chamber of commerce can’t get out of its own way, and makes decisions that largely help entrenched power players.  Our local chamber of commerce is so tone-deaf that it makes, arbitrary suggestions with no foundation behind them regarding reduction of the state budget, but in the next breath fights vehemently for billions in state funding for pet programs.  The business leadership in this community is as insular, as parochial, as racked with self-indulgent failure as are our governments.

Of course, the two are so inextricably linked, and so driven to preserving everything just the way it is, playing a game of “it’s 1955” make-believe, that only microsurgery could separate them.

Larry Quinn’s letter is focused on one specific issue – the management of block  grant programs and economic development entities in the city of Buffalo.  But its message extends to the management of any and all programs funded by outside money, and to all economic development entities in Erie County.  Hell, you can throw in the local old money and their foundations to that frothy cauldron of failure that regular people are saddled with here, locally.

A revolution is definitely in order around here.  Not some half-assed ideological tea party revolution, because these problems far transcend party politics.  A revolution where entrepreneurship is encouraged, mentored, and assisted.  A revolution where entrenched interests and old money no longer control pursestrings or narratives.  A revolution where government is a meritocracy rather than a deadly sludge of patronage and payback.  A revolution where favoritism is no longer tolerated, and where decisions are not made based on who knows whom.

Then again, the overwhelming majority of people in this area either don’t care, or else derive a direct or indirect benefit from the current system – from the status quo.  So, don’t hold your breath.

HT Jim Heaney at the Buffalo News, and @braybc on Twitter.

Things You Don’t Hear About Buffalo Everyday

11 Sep

I’ve been fascinated following the “Yahoo Comes to WNY” story as it has developed this summer because the whole thing seems so improbable. This is not a typical WNY “win.” Fargenkugel’s from Germany is not expanding in West Seneca to make brakes for air balloons, employing 10 people. GM is not announcing a new 7-piston truck engine for the Tonawanda plant, that will be unneeded before its designed and obsolete before its fielded. No, Yahoo is a real New Economy company, that will pay real wages, and make $100M’s in investments. Its the kind of thing that normally happens in Virginia, or North Carolina, or Tennessee.

One item of interest of mine, as the economy recovers, is seeing which cities and industries win. Jobs will eventually come back – the question is where, and in what areas of the economy. In this regard, Buffalo, initially, seems to be doing surprisingly well. AIG, the insurance giant, falls. Smaller insurance companies expand into the vacuum. GEICO then moves new jobs to Buffalo in sectors new to that company. Green energy companies Globe Metallurgical and Sunworks Solar pledge 500 and 175 jobs, respectively, to manufacture solar cells and arrays. Banks fail around the country, but M&T and First Niagara scoop up the remains, creating hundreds of new jobs in the process. And finally, Yahoo, an emblem of the IT future, brings their new east coast data center.

All of which is why I particularly enjoyed today’s story in the Buffalo News. Christina Page, a Yahoo exec, spoke to the BNE yesterday. She said things you don’t normally hear:

‘We’ve been delighted with the cooperation we’ve received here,” said Page.

“We found that you were all willing to work with us to meet our mission-critical criteria. That was a game-changer for us.”

“You probably don’t hear this very often, but we love your weather,” Page joked. “One of the things that caused us to favor you was your climate.”

Ha ha, yes, the obligatory weather joke. Yes, we get it. We do live here. But there is more.

“I can’t overstate the amount of work and cooperation that went into this to answer our questions,” Page said. “We know we’re demanding. We’re from Silicon Valley. We want everything and we want it yesterday. The tenacity was an important part of this.”

And she praised the “town pride” and collaboration among more than 30 public and private entities locally. “There’s a huge ability to cooperate here, across entities, that was very impressive,” she said. “You don’t experience that everywhere and it was very important to us.”

Yahoo

How often do you hear the words “tenacity, “town pride” (related to business, not hockey), and “cooperate” used to describe the political and business culture of Buffalo.

If they came out of the mouth of the standard NYS politician, or the BNE itself, I would discount it immediately. But they came from Yahoo, and they really are coming here. They already got the major tax breaks – why kiss our ass now?

So, what if these things are actually true? I have believed in the past that the reason things move so slowly in Buffalo is there is not enough $$$ being lost through inaction. In the booming southwest, new builds go up in half the time of around here (anecdotally). Why renovate a warehouse into lofts quickly when I’m not making much on the rents anyway? In contrast, in Phoenix, I’m losing too much money every minute a project is not done. Things happen fast.

But we were clearly fast enough, and tenacious enough, this time. And if we can’t consolidate those 30 IDA’s and jurisdictions into 5, the next best thing is to have them all cooperate effectively, and read off the same sheet of music.

Now, I’m not so naive as to not understand the tax breaks had a lot to do with it. But even there, NY has always been far behind ($600M for Tennessee to build a car plant for Volkswagen, anyone?). Even in our high-tax environment, could some cheap power and sales tax breaks be competitive? Perhaps other states can not be as generous as they once were. Perhaps the pyramid schemes (based upon rising real estate values) that powered the budgets of many a sun-belt and southern state have finally come back down to earth.

So maybe, just maybe, New York really does have a competitive combination of speed, tax breaks and natural resources. Say it ain’t so.