Sep 3


Monday Morning Read

A Buffalo Billion program that's working - more or less - and the allegations against Mark Poloncarz that don't hold up to scrutiny.

You could have read this yesterday if you subscribed – for free – to WeeklyPost. Sign up here.

Buffalo Business First last week published a list of 60 companies that have received funding over the past eight years through the 43North program, which is intended to promote the growth of start-up businesses in Western New York. (Data could not be located on four others.)

The list was accompanied by an in-depth story. I’ve done a lot of reporting in the past on economic development, for both Investigative Post and The Buffalo News, and took a deeper dive into the data. (It was fun to play reporter for a change.)

Here’s what I found:

  • Of the 60 companies accounted for, 31 are headquartered in Buffalo (including one each in Amherst and Batavia); 27 are headquartered out of town, in some cases, abroad; and two are out of business.
  • Of the 58 companies still in business, 37 have some sort of presence in Western New York, 21 do not.
  • Firms headquartered in WNY have received $19.9 million in funding and employ 2,588.
  • Companies with HQs elsewhere have obtained $15.7 million and employ 720.
  • Awards ranged from $250,000 to $1.3 million per company, with most receiving $500,000.
  • The median number of employees is 10. No company employs more than 250, except for ACV Auctions, which employs 2,000, according to the Business First research.
  • Companies involved in software (29) and the life sciences (17) make up the bulk of the firms receiving funds.

Now for a bit of my analysis: 

  • Nearly half of the companies receiving funding are headquartered out of town. Not good. That suggests 43North has made some progress – but only some – since our Charlotte Keith reported in 2017 that most firms were taking the money and running. (The numbers had improved somewhat when we followed up a year later.)
  • The cost per job works out to $10,762. That’s better than many other subsidy programs administered by state and local economic development agencies. Factor out ACV Auctions, far and away the program’s most successful investment, and the cost per job climbs to $26,453.

I’m not terribly impressed by some of the numbers, in part because of the large contingent of companies headquartered out of town. But the program’s total investment of some $40 million has produced 3,308 jobs, compared with the nearly $1 billion doled out to Tesla to create half as many jobs or the $270 million dished out to Plug Power in the STAMP industrial park in Genesee County to create 68 jobs.

In that context, 43North looks pretty darn good.

Get our newsletters delivered to your inbox
* indicates required

Newsletters *

Local news outlets, led by The Buffalo News, are having a field day with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s dust-up with a now former girlfriend.

First came the report that she filed a complaint with Buffalo police, alleging that he grabbed and restrained her as they wrestled over his cellphone. Poloncarz disputed her version of events.

Next came a story that she filed a claim with the county ethics board contending the county executive funneled money to an Italian cultural group whose management team included another woman he was supposedly dating.

Let’s unpack things.

No one but Poloncarz and his now former girlfriend know exactly what transpired during their dispute. But this much is a fact: The report she filed with police was supposed to be treated as a confidential document, as the matter was handled by the department’s Special Victims Unit and she did not press charges. Nevertheless, someone in Byron Brown’s police department leaked the report. Hmmmm.

As for the allegation that Poloncarz awarded his other girlfriend’s organization with money, well, The News, in the bowels of the story, reported that the county executive last year recommended that the group’s proposed allocation of $88,000 be slashed to $7,500. Does that sound like he was trying to do anyone a favor? 

As anyone who reads this newsletter knows, I’m no fan of Poloncarz, mostly because  of his handling of negotiations involving the Bills stadium. But I can’t help but think he’s been set up as the election campaign for county executive starts to heat up.

Donate to support our nonprofit newsroom

New York Focus documents another example of our toothless state Board of Elections.

State Sen. Sean Ryan failed to pass reforms this past legislative session that would have stopped IDAs from granting tax breaks at the expense of school districts. (He didn’t come close.) Ryan said he’ll try again next year. (ICYMI, our J. Dale Shoemaker documented the problem back in May.)

new survey conducted by Allied Van Lines (the moving people) and Homebay had both good and bad things to say about the Buffalo area. Our region ranked as 4th-least desirable in the nation and the 33rd-most desirable. Also the 13th-most overrated and 26th-most underrated. Make of it what you will.

Press critics are aghast at the continued propensity of mainstream news outlets to focus on horse-race coverage of the presidential election when so much is at stake.

Wrote PressWatch:

“Even as the nation faces another potentially cataclysmic election in 2024 — arguably the most perilous in American history — the mainstream news industry continues to engage in the same business-as-usual that got us here in the first place.”

Then there’s this take from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“America is entering its most important, pivotal year since 1860, and the U.S. media is doing a terrible job explaining what is actually happening. Too many of us — with our highfalutin poli-sci degrees and our dog-eared copies of the late Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes — are still covering elections like it’s the 20th century, as if the old touchstones like debates or a 30-second spot still matter.”

The cable TV industry is in trouble, so says one of its major carriers. Reports The New York Times: “Cable TV is too expensive for consumers and providers, Charter Communications, which has nearly 15 million pay-TV subscribers, said in a 11-page presentation to investors on Friday.” Is the industry, and with it, the fate of some content producers, headed the way of newspapers?

Elsewhere on the media front, The Chronicle of Philanthropy published a piece on the need for foundations and everyday folks to invest in nonprofit news organizations. The need is great — $1.75 billion a year — while the giving is modest – $150 million.

Wrote the Chronicle:

“Donors in communities across the country invest in their local schools, places of worship, and cultural arts centers. It’s time that we persuade affluent donors and everyday givers that local journalism is just as crucial as those institutions when it comes to community vitality.”

As the editor of a nonprofit news organization, I second the motion.

On the national front:

It’s Labor Day and the end of summer. Did that ever depress me as a kid. Doesn’t thrill me these days either. Alas, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues. (Or, if you prefer, a more muscular version. Geoff Kelly prefers yet another version.) Take your pick.

Investigative Post

Get our newsletters delivered to your inbox * indicates required

Newsletters *