By James W. Pitts
The funding of two clean energy companies to create a high-tech hub in Buffalo represents a major step in establishing a viable clean technology economic development strategy for the city. It could also represent the first major step in developing a viable revitalization strategy for the city’s East Side.
Businesses in energy conservation, green building construction and retrofitting can drive local job creation using traditional and newly skilled workers. According to the 2009 Western New York Green Study, the impact of investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy generates more jobs at less cost than traditional economic development strategies.
Buffalo’s East Side is one of the most impoverished areas of the city, with a real unemployment rate near 58 percent. Employment consists of low-wage service occupations with smaller percentages in manufacturing and retail trade. Residents’ median net worth is at $13,000 and housing cost burdens are at least 35 percent. These demographics and high property vacancy rates, and old inefficient housing and buildings, frame the need to invest in green construction and improvements in the community.
In the further planning for the proposed energy campus, a community-based action plan should be considered to develop new businesses and workforce training around green building design and energy efficiency targeted to the East Side. This plan would use the inner city’s many assets, form public-private partnerships combining economic development with workforce training and identify new business opportunities through competitive and collaborative programs.
Existing regional economic development approaches have been successful with the growth of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and a variety of university-based incubators creating many new opportunities. But these opportunities provide little benefit for the city’s distressed communities. An East Side action plan would begin linking the community to the region’s current economic resurgence.
The proposed energy campus on the old Republic Steel site validates the 2009 Green Study’s recommendation to use former industrial properties and our underutilized manufacturing expertise as key assets to grow the new clean tech economy.
The East Side has all of the assets cited in the study, including easily accessible locations for the city and region, underserved markets for potential business growth and an untapped workforce.
The timing for regenerating a healthier, sustainable East Side has never been better. Let’s not miss this opportunity like so many others in the past.
James W. Pitts is president of Green Gold Development Corp. of Buffalo and is a former president of the Buffalo Common Council.