Looking Ahead—2016 and Beyond
By Ben Rand
As 2016 opens, what should WNY manufacturers expect for the coming year and beyond? We have our own unique set of circumstances here that will heavily influence our 2016. Like politics, economics can also be local, and in WNY we have benefitted from a huge infusion of cash, energy and optimism otherwise known as the “Buffalo Billion.” It does not require a detailed macroeconomic analysis to conclude that pumping $1 billion into a five-county area will be good for that economy, at least in the short term. The key question is: Can that initial success be sustained? Will the Governor’s bold move cause a chain reaction of growth and development that continues long after the initial expenditures have been made?
If sustainability is the goal, it is reasonable to look at the Buffalo Billion’s effect on manufacturing, our largest tradable sector.
Critics might point to SolarCity, the largest and most visible investment made by the Buffalo Billion, and claim it is risky—a large bet on a single company and industry that is heavily reliant on federal subsidies and tax breaks. Certainly, SolarCity is no silver bullet and the Buffalo Billion has wisely been invested in multiple initiatives that will benefit our area for years, regardless of SolarCity’s success. Buffalo Manufacturing Works, for instance, is already bringing cutting-edge technologies to existing WNY manufacturers of all kinds, offering them an opportunity to dramatically improve their competitiveness to world-class levels. The Workforce Development Training Center, slated to open on Northlands Avenue, has the potential to take a big bite out of WNY manufacturers’ biggest challenge: finding skilled and reliable workers.
Beyond manufacturing, the 43North business-plan competition has created an energetic, vibrant WNY entrepreneurial scene that can become a new engine of growth. In only two years, 43North has garnered international attention and attracted dozens of promising startups with the potential to invigorate our economy for years to come. Inspired by 43North, more and more of our young people have begun to realize that they don’t need someone else to give them a job: they can make their own dream job by starting a company. This thought alone would represent a tectonic shift in WNY’s thinking, attitude and culture that could fundamentally alter our future for the good.
So, while the economy may wobble and the stock markets will rollercoaster, here in WNY our long-term future is as bright as it has been in decades. We will have setbacks, downturns and even failures, but you cannot reverse decades-long trends without risking failures. So here is my prediction: WNY’s upward trajectory will continue, reversing decades of decline, thanks in large part to the Buffalo Billion.