State pursuing major jobs initiative for Buffalo

Cuomo seeking to export model used to make Albany an economic, educational powerhouse in nanotechnology

The state has quietly launched a major initiative to develop a series of economic development hubs in Buffalo aimed at attracting medical, energy and technology companies that would generate thousands of good-paying jobs.

The state recently issued a request for proposals seeking developers to construct two or three facilities in the city and partner with a handful of anchor tenants who would employ an estimated 1,500 to 2,000. Much like a shopping mall, these large tenants would attract small and mid-sized firms that would add to that employment base and build a critical mass in fields regarded as regional strengths.

The state intends to select a developer in January and expects companies to open for business in 2015, according to the RFP and a state official familiar with the initiative.

One facility, probably located downtown, would house office, technical and research and development operations. A manufacturing facility would be built elsewhere in the city.

“The governor is pushing to get this done ASAP,” the official said.

The initiative seeks to export the business model used to develop the nanotechnology sector in Albany, which has grown the past 12 years to include some 13,000 jobs at more than 60 companies and the development of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering of SUNY Albany into a world-class university program.

The model involves the state identifying business sectors to target for further growth and recruiting developers to build facilities and seed them with anchor tenants who can in turn attract other related businesses to build a critical mass of related activity.

While the state provides subsidies, the bulk of investment comes from private sources.

The RFP seeks a Buffalo-based developer. The official who briefed Investigative Post said the state intends to provide the developer “minimal” financial assistance.

The official added that the $1 billion pledged by the state to help revitalize the regional economy and the Start-Up New York program that provides tax breaks and other incentives to companies aligned with state universities has generated considerable interest from corporations outside the region. So state financial assistance will certainly play a role.

“Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion and Start Up New York are generating a very high level of interest in global corporation wanting to locate and grow in Buffalo,” the official said.

The effort to export the “nano business model” to other parts of New York represents Cuomo’s continued remaking of economic development policy which, for the past 30 years, has mostly involved scattershot subsidies to companies.

Similar initiatives are planned for Rochester, Syracuse and Utica.

“The governor directed us to take the business model and expand and replicate it Upstate using local strengths,” the state official said.

The model is the basis of the state’s first Buffalo Billion project, in which the state is providing $50 million to build and equip a facility at or near the downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to attract companies involved in pharmaceutical drug research and manufacturing. Albany Molecular Research Inc. and two other firms have been recruited as the lead anchor. They will initially employ 75, with 250 jobs projected within three years.