He’s doing what he said he would do. With the twin announcements Tuesday of a powerful research company landing in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the state’s rescue of the Maid of the Mist boat tours in Niagara Falls, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is making good on his pledge to revive the Western New York economy. Things are happening – and not one-shot deals, either. These are developments that help lay the groundwork for further expansion and growth.
Both announcements were significant, but the most exciting one, because it represents something new, is that Albany Molecular Research Inc. will expand its capital-area operations into the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where it will create 250 new jobs, attract state investment and produce a high-tech operation in drug discovery.
In addition to $50 million in state investment in new biomedical research equipment and facilities, the governor’s announcement is expected to leverage another $200 million in private investment. Indeed, Matthew K. Enstice, president of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, said that as a result of Tuesday’s announcement, he had “within 10 minutes” received a feeler from another big company interested in Buffalo’s new possibilities.
The development is part of Cuomo’s promised $1 billion investment in Buffalo, a pledge that has drawn some skepticism from other parts of the state. Cuomo has correctly noted that Buffalo has long been neglected by the state and that development here will help not only the local economy, but the state’s as well.
Meanwhile, Cuomo has also saved the Maid of the Mist from a watery grave. The Glynn family of Lewiston, which has owned the tour boats since 1971, had lost its Canadian wintering spot when the province negotiated a more-lucrative contract with a California company, Hornblower Cruises. Without a suitable spot to store its boats on the New York side of the Niagara River, the Maid of the Mist faced the end of the line.
Enter Cuomo. The state will provide a place for the boats to winter, near the old Schoellkopf power plant, at a cost of $32 million, which Maid of the Mist will pay. In addition, the company will triple its annual rent payment to the state parks office, for an expected total of $105 million over the 30 years remaining on the contract. Given the huge increase that Hornblower paid to Ontario, the Glynns’ increased payment is nothing but reasonable.
These are tremendously heartening moves for a region that has seen more than its share of economic disappointments. They represent the first solid developments of Cuomo’s regional economic development strategy and his financial commitment to Buffalo.
As fate would have it, the governor was handed a new challenge even as he made these dramatic announcements. HSBC Bank USA announced – not unexpectedly – that it will vacate its downtown tower next October. That will put a huge amount of office space on the market, which could upend the rental market economy here.
The governor and his Western New York economic development team, led by Howard Zemsky, need to focus intently on the challenge.
The good news is that the bank announced that its remaining 3,000 employees will retain their jobs, with tower employees moving to the HSBC Atrium nearby on Washington Street and to its suburban outpost in Depew.
Still, HSBC is in the midst of big changes, and the Cuomo team would do well to work closely with the bank to be sure that this move is not an interim one.
Cuomo’s challenge here was already big, before Hurricane Sandy blew a hole in the state’s finances. But he is sticking by his promise to Western New York. For that, he deserves the region’s thanks.