By Ben Rand
As Howard Zemsky and Christina Orsi move on to new roles with New York State and UB, respectively, I’d like to take a moment to thank them for championing WNY economic development, particularly WNY manufacturing. They forged a tremendous partnership between the WNY Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) and the WNY Region of Empire State Development Corporation (ESD). That partnership was able to assemble a diverse and powerful team from the public and private sectors to craft the strategic plan that brought WNY an initial $100 million award (the largest of any Regional Council) and ultimately was the genesis of Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion, which continues to dramatically transform WNY. In the process, both Howard and Christina proved themselves stalwart supporters of WNY manufacturing.
From the start, advanced manufacturing was a key aspect of both the REDC plan and the Buffalo Billion. Only a few years later, a $45 million, cutting-edge manufacturing institute—Buffalo Manufacturing
Works (BMW)—is being stood up, and ground has been broken at Riverbend for what will be the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in North America. The linkage between these manufacturing initiatives and their short-term and long-term potential are a good example of the quality of the economic planning for WNY on Howard and Christina’s watch. BMW targets WNY’s existing manufacturing base, those companies that have proven their commitment to our area over the years and have provided the lion’s share of our gross regional product, as well as over 50,000 direct jobs.
At the same time, the Riverbend project catapults us into the alternative energy Big Leagues, taking WNY from a minor player at best to a clear leader in a rapidly emerging industry with the potential to radically transform the whole Energy sector. Some energy market pundits believe that solar power is on a trajectory to become a lower-cost power source than oil or even natural gas in a few short years. There is
a reason that Elon Musk, a visionary and incredibly successful entrepreneur with PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and now SolarCity, is betting heavily on electric and solar technologies. Now he is partnering with us to make SolarCity a reality. Yes, Elon Musk is investing in Buffalo. Not many people could have imagined such a scenario, even as recently as three years ago.
Either of these threads would represent an exciting prospect for WNY. Together, their potential is even greater. Combine that with the Buffalo Billion’s other initiatives in health/life sciences, tourism, innovation/entrepreneurship, human capital, efficient infrastructure and livable cities and you can begin to appreciate the staggering scope and size of the economic development program that Howard and Christina have helped set in motion. The best thing we can do to thank them and honor them is to pitch- in ourselves, to do our own small part to keep this dramatic program moving forward to completion and success.