New York Buffalo Manufacturing Sector Feeds The Workforce Pipeline 649b4463148ed

Strong workforce pipeline makes Buffalo, New York, a desirable manufacturing destination

June 29, 2023
A combination of industry, academia, and government have secured the future of manufacturing for the region.

The manufacturing workforce isn’t suffering everywhere. Though the country has a national problem finding new skilled workers to fill jobs in industry, there are pockets of success, such as Buffalo, NY, home to a $13.2 billion manufacturing sector. It is the third largest employer in the Buffalo Niagara economy and employs almost 70,000 people. This manufacturing workforce is also projected to grow by 1.2% in the next five years, thanks in large part to efforts by the city, local educational institutions, and manufacturers in the region.

Tom Kucharski, president and CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara, a non-profit economic development agency in the region, said on-shoring efforts following the pandemic and the passage of significant federal legislation, such as The CHIPS and Science Act and The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, has increased Buffalo’s desirability as a manufacturing destination. 

Support from local educational institutions, low-cost hydropower, and tax incentives are other supporting factors to recent investment in industry in the region. Empire State Development (ESD), which is the economic development arm of New York State, offers a 0% state corporate income tax for manufacturers and low-cost hydropower from the Niagara River. Twenty-five turbines harness the power of the Niagara Falls to create 2.5 GW of clean, renewable power; a total of 19% of the state’s grid is powered by hydroelectric energy. According to data from the EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID), upstate New York has the cleanest power profile in the country. Industrial electric rates are roughly 15% below the national average, one of the lowest in the country, according to Kucharski.

“Affordability and now energy efficiency and reliability are critical as companies consider expansion and set new sustainability goals, which significantly helps Buffalo Niagara’s business case when talking to expanding and growing companies,” Kucharski said. “As companies continue to up their sustainability commitments, clean and reliable power sources like hydropower from the New York Power Authority become that much more important.”

New to the Western New York region is Plug Power, focused on end-to-end green hydrogen from production, storage, and delivery to energy generation. The company recently expanded to the Western New York Science & Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park (WNY STAMP) in Alabama, NY in Genesee County, within the hydropower zone, giving the company access to renewable hydropower for its process of creating green hydrogen cells that can power heavy-duty equipment. “That multiplier effect within the new wave of advanced and clean manufacturing is critical and makes Buffalo Niagara a very competitive destination,” Kucharski said.

The green hydrogen production facility will produce 45 metric tons of green liquid hydrogen daily. Using Plug’s 120 MW polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyzers, it can make the hydrogen using clean New York hydropower. The company said the development of its new green hydrogen fuel production facility in New York is the result of a comprehensive state and local incentive package from the New York Power Authority, ESD and Genesee County.

Developing workforce and community diversity

A big part of the continued success and projected growth of the Buffalo Niagara manufacturing region is the Northland Workforce Training Center (NWTC), the anchor institution within the Northland Beltline Redevelopment Project, which is home to NWTC, Buffalo Manufacturing Works, and Insyte Consulting, working with the Western New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a regional center of the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

NWTC opened its doors on September 3, 2018 in East Buffalo, offering Western New Yorkers access to high paying careers in advanced manufacturing and clean energy. NWTC is a partnership among participants in government, education, and the non-profit sector.

NWTC offers a state-of-the-art facility providing for-credit, certificate, and degree programs through its educational partners. It currently offers a one-year certificate program in mechatronics taught by SUNY Erie Community College and three, two-year Associate Degree programs in machine tool technology, welding, and electrical construction and maintenance electrician, taught by SUNY Alfred State College.

“NWTC helps those who may not have access to secondary education establish a pathway to a degree and a job with family sustaining wages through training, co-ops, internships, and permanent employment opportunities,” said Stephen Tucker, president and CEO of NWTC. “By offering intensive wraparound services and a continual coaching model, NWTC has high retention, graduation, and job placement rates that provide successful paths for low-income, first-generation college students to break the cycle of generational poverty.” He said the program has an 87.6% employment placement rate for its graduates with minority population enrollment totals of more than 50%. With an average starting salary at $19/hour, Tucker said this equates to more than $5.9 billion in wages added to the local economy.

The current graduation rate is 63.9%, trending toward a program goal of 80% of students that complete technical training. Tucker said this is three times the national average for community college graduation. Since its inception, NWTC has welcomed 932 students to the program.

Tucker said NWTC’s target enrollment populations include the unemployed or underemployed, displaced employees, especially those in COVID-affected sectors (retail, hospitality, food service), and those who are economically disadvantaged (as defined by at or below 185% of the federal poverty guideline). NWTC has an aggressive outreach and recruiting strategy with dedicated teams of recruiters who meet face-to-face with students at their schools, community centers, churches and local events. NWTC also advertises via radio, billboards and social media, designed to raise awareness of the technical careers in Western New York. Minority representation amongst the student population was 60.2% and 8.4% female. 

“NWTC’s training approach combines evidence-based best practices regarding awareness, recruitment, assessment, career planning, education and training, job placement, and retention services, with intensive wraparound support to ensure student suitability, preparedness, persistence, placement, and career advancement,” Tucker said, adding that NWTC offers certificate and degree programs at little to no out-of-pocket expense to students based on need.

In July 2020, NWTC launched a new Summer Youth Academy, a six-week education/internship experience, focused on raising awareness of career opportunities and educational pathways within advanced manufacturing and clean energy sectors. In partnership with Buffalo, New York Mayor Byron Brown’s Summer Internship Program, the fully paid immersion experience is for youth interested in high tech careers, who will complete weekly modules on machining, electrical, welding, mechatronics and renewable energy. Students also participate in site visits to partner companies, such as Tesla, New York Power Authority, National Grid, and Moog.

In September 2022, the WNY regional office of ESD was also awarded approximately $25 million through the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) Build Back Better Regional Challenge to invest in East Buffalo and accelerate the growth of advanced manufacturing in the region. The $1 billion program is the marquee of EDA’s American Rescue Plan programs, aimed at boosting economic recovery from the pandemic and rebuild American communities, including those grappling with decades of disinvestment.

Local business perspective: manufacturing DNA

“Workforce is key here at PM Plastics. We work hard to add the appropriate skillsets to our team. We work with several employment agencies and local universities to find talent, like University of Buffalo and Canisius College. We also continuously network with our clients and suppliers to identify potential available candidates. We have also benchmarked our compensation and benefits to ensure we are industry leading so that we can attract and retain the best talent,” said Benjamin Harp, president at PM Plastics, based in Orchard Park, NY.

Harp and his business partner Tom Rybicki purchased PM Plastics in March 2022, after working at Polymer Conversions (now known as Medbio), a full-service medical contract manufacturer, including injection molding machines and injection mold tooling. Before leaving Polymer Conversions, the two led the company through several large manufacturing expansions in 2009 and again in 2021. The 2009 expansion at Polymer Conversions was 22,000 square feet, including 30 new full-time jobs, and the 2021 expansion was similar in expansion size and jobs commitment. “New York State was highly responsive and supportive of those expansions. When we decided to purchase our own company, we had confidence that New York State would be supportive of us based on our history and performance with the State,” Harp said.

PM Plastics manufactures plastic molded components and devices for OEM clients. The company has a zero-waste policy and works with clients to evaluate and use recycled content materials for their products.

“Buffalo and Western New York has several universities preparing the workforce in our community like University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State, and Canisius University,” said Harp. The company also works with the Northland Workforce Training Center (NWTC) for training, co-op, internship and permanent employment opportunities for those seeking high-paying advanced manufacturing and energy careers in Western New York, as a resource when the company hires new talent.

“Buffalo is a manufacturing town,” Harp added. “Making things is in our DNA. We talk manufacturing at our dinner tables.”

Investing in American Manufacturing - 2023

This map shows where manufacturers are choosing to invest their resources, whether they are building new production facilities or expanding existing plants.

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