Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn., were the two hottest job markets in the United States in 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal. No one is going to mistake Buffalo for those warm-weather cities with their booming technology sectors.
Still, the tech industry is helping to power an increasingly significant part of our region’s resurgence.
Amazon’s apparent decision to build a warehouse and distribution center on Grand Island is expected to create from 1,000 to 1,800 jobs. Processing packages may not be glamorous work, but those jobs will enable a lot of households to pay their bills and boost the tax rolls. And a region that prides itself on its blue-collar work ethic is always ready to embrace new opportunities.
The sheer size of Amazon’s planned facility is formidable: 3.8 million square feet. A story in The News noted that it could fit three Seneca One towers inside, or three Tesla gigafactories. That represents a major investment by the e-commerce giant, which already is building a delivery station in the Town of Tonawanda, and has a sorting center in Lancaster along with the Whole Foods market it owns in Amherst.
The technology sector is ramping up here. Last June, M&T Bank Chairman and CEO Rene F. Jones announced the bank’s creation of a Tech Hub inside Douglas Jemal’s Seneca One tower downtown. The bank is aiming to hire 1,000 technology workers.
“Our shared goal is to grow and strengthen the region’s tech ecosystem by creating a hub where tech teams from different companies and organizations can co-locate, enabling new talent and new ideas to ‘collide’ within a culture and community of innovation, initiative and entrepreneurialism,” Jones said.
43North, Buffalo’s startup incubator, has also moved to Seneca One.
The regional tech ecosystem extends to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where last May the State of New York and the University at Buffalo announced the launching of an Innovation Hub, funded by a $32 million Buffalo Billion II grant.
The hub’s goal is to draw upon research to create products for the marketplace, connecting entrepreneurs with UB and its research partners, including Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Jacobs Institute, Hauptmann-Woodward Medical Research Institute and Kaleida Health.
The Main Place Liberty Group recently announced plans to convert the three-level Main Place Mall into a modern office building, to attract tenants in the information and technology business.
While the downtown core is key to building critical mass for a technology ecosystem to thrive, peripheral businesses such as Amazon’s sorting and shipping facilities enable the wheels of e-commerce to keep churning.
Amazon’s Town of Tonawanda facility, expected to open later this year, will hire several hundred people to help the company get packages on their “last mile” to customers.
Grand Island Supervisor John Whitney told The News that the proposal for the facility on Long Road needs to be studied carefully. “We can’t just take this at face value,” he said.
That process will get under way Monday, when the Town Board begins its review of the plans. Some residents worried about traffic on Grand Island’s bridges will no doubt voice their concerns, and it’s a topic that will need to be addressed. There are some critics who object to e-commerce in general and the way it has taken shoppers away from brick-and-mortar stores. But that process is irreversible in 2020. Amazon is here to stay, and it’s important that Western New York is finding ways to share in the new economy.