Luring new businesses to the region and encouraging job-producing expansions can be a tough challenge in a weak economy. Thomas A. Kucharski, president and chief executive officer of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, talks about his organization’s 12 project “wins” over the past year. While it was the second-weakest tally in the past decade, Kucharski said the results met the marketing group’s goals, given the economic realities. He sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer in the weekly “In Focus” interview series.
Here is a summary of some of the issues discussed. Watch the full seven-minute interview at www.buffalonews.com/video.
Kucharski: We’re in a tough economy, but we haven’t gone away from our game plan that started 12 years ago now: market to your strengths and don’t excuse away your weaknesses. And I think a lot of what we’re seeing happening in our community I’d like to believe that we have something to do with that ... [BNE has promoted the region’s assets and accomplishments], and some of the accolades that we’ve gotten and some of our rankings we arguably haven’t seen in 20 [or] 25 years. And it’s creating a nice kind of momentum for investors.
Meyer: And yet when we look at last year’s numbers, you did create hundreds of new jobs, but it was the second-weakest in a decade. Is that indicative of the soft economy, and if so, where are we headed?
Kucharski: Most prognosticators and economists [believe] we have to work our way out our debt situation. Europe is struggling mightily. We have an election. We have issues related to energy policy, workforce development. In many cases, projects that may be interested in our area are having a difficult time, as they are in a lot of domestic markets, looking at our workforce, which is very strong – but finding the exact people. We have a lot more college-educated, community college-educated folks in disciplines that are not what a lot of companies are looking for, which is machinists, engineers, those type of [backgrounds].
Meyer: You’re also focusing ... on target markets.
Kucharski: Our target businesses [include] advanced manufacturing ... Most of the 60 Canadian companies that have come in the last five years are manufacturers, sticking their toe in the U.S. market ... [Also,] the life sciences. You see that taking off, not only with public investment, but considerable private investment ... And the financial services. We’re still seeing data centers, back-office operations.
Meyer: How do you market the region to these companies for either new [projects] or expansions when you still have New York that, according to many people, is just a tough state to do business in?
Kucharski: That’s part of our role, also. We not only market, but we’re also a quarterback. We, through our board of investors, who are major companies in the region – through our alliances with all the government entities and quasi-government entities ... we act to try and minimize the risk, the exposure, the cumbersome nature of bureaucracy. We also use incentives and package a customized business proposal for a company.