This is an auspicious moment in economic development in Western New York. Sections of downtown Buffalo are alive with construction activity, with more to come. Our regional economic development council is working to capitalize on this area’s strengths, in part by leveraging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s promise of $1 billion for Buffalo.
At the same time, changes are coming to the region’s business development infrastructure. The primary change, at least for the moment, is the pending retirement of Andrew Rudnick as head of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the lead business organization in Western New York. Other changes are possible, too, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s reforms to the state’s industrial development agencies.
Together, these developments make this a natural time to re-evaluate the structure of the region’s economic development system, and in particular, the relationship between the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and its sister/rival organization, the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.
The two are separate, privately funded organizations with slightly different missions that nonetheless fall under the umbrella of business development in Western New York. In its own words, the Partnership’s sole purpose is “to make Buffalo Niagara’s marketplace, and the employers in it, more competitive in order to grow private sector investment and jobs.” The BNE’s not-dissimilar mission is to “attract business investment to Buffalo Niagara.”
The question – and it’s not the first time it has been asked – is whether Western New York would be better served by a single, consolidated organization with all the resources of these two working in a combined, focused way to produce economic growth. It’s an obvious question for which Western New Yorkers should seek an answer. The time to do that is now, before Rudnick’s successor is named.
Even without the issue of duplication of effort, the new head of the Partnership will face different challenges and opportunities than Rudnick confronted when the Partnership was formed 20 years ago. Then, Buffalo was a poor city still in decline, reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs and with more blows still to come.
Today, Buffalo remains poor, but its outlook and its prospects have changed, radically. Work on the waterfront and around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is continual. The once-comatose Larkin District has come alive. The job of the organization’s new president will be to leverage the development of Buffalo and Western New York into future successes.
If it is to also take on the tasks now associated with the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, then that needs to be known as the task of finding a new leader gets under way.
Should that happen? We won’t know unless we take a hard look at the landscape now.