When the agency directors meet on March 30, they are expected to approve $425,000 in allocations — part of its external special projects budget — to help finance a local labor market assessment study, a plan to generate more development leads from Canadian firms and aid the operation of the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center on Buffalo's East Side.
"This aligns with other strategies," said Steve Weathers, ECIDA president and CEO. "It is really part of the overall picture."
• The ECIDA will allocate $75,000 towards a $250,000 labor assessment study that's being conducted by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute. The study is aimed at making sure the right job-training programs are in place for targeted industries like those in the life sciences or high-tech manufacturing sectors.
"The need for a qualified workforce has risen to the top of (site selectors) list," said Tom Kucharski, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise president and CEO. "It has actually moved ahead of incentives and real estate. Site selectors are always asking, on behalf of their clients, 'Can I find the right people?'"
The study will identify what skills should be taught and who or what firms may need those workers. The study should be completed this year and serve as a template for the ECIDA, BNE and other regional business development groups.
It is designed to help — and not compete — with other efforts like the Northland Corridor Workforce Training Center.
• The agency has agreed to allocate $100,000 to Montreal-based CIDEP, a marketing firm that will assist in an outreach to firms in Ontario and Quebec who may be interested in the Buffalo Niagara region for a U.S. presence.
Officials say the strategy is part of a long-term, Canadian outreach effort.
"This only works over a long period of time," said Maria Whyte, Erie County Deputy Executive. "You have to plant the seeds, nurture them and watch them grow."
The region has a successful track record of attracting Canadian firms ranging from high profile moves by the likes of Welded Tube, who opened a steel processing plant in Lackawanna, to smaller companies that have garnered less headlines and attention.
Kucharski said in the past seven years, the BNE has helped 70 Canadian firms set up a local presence that has resulted in nearly 1,100 jobs created and almost $500 million in private sector investment.
While groups like the BNE and others have done extensive Canadian outreach, the key is to have a firm with deeper connections lobbying on the region's behalf. Securing more Canadian investment dollars has been a top economic development strategy of both Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Kucharski said CIDEP will focus on targeted industries and avoid a more shotgun approach that has proven to be less effective. Among those being targeted are companies with 50 employees or less who need or want a U.S. presence.
"This isn't about pirating," Kucharski said. "You have to build a trust and understanding."
• Also likely to be approved next month is a $250,000 allocation to help underwrite the Beverly Gray center on W. Utica Street that offers assistance to women and minority-owned businesses who need a wide variety of services.
The center, a pet project of Brown's, is part of a strategy to bring the city's economic resurgence deeper into the East Side.
"This is about filling in missing links, not duplicating what's already out there," said Rebecca Gandour, Buffalo director of development. "It could be as simple as teaching people how to make business introductions or handling bookkeeping to more complex issues."
Brown sees the Gray center as an East Side-focused business incubator.
"We view this as a place to go and get support," Gandour said.