Kim Beldon Grant is the vice president of business development for Invest Buffalo Niagara (InBN), the region’s nonprofit, privately funded economic development organization focused on job creation.
Grant has been in economic development since 2007, at first with a small engineering firm, and then at UB, before recently joining InBN. She's also been involved in the Western New York start up community, working with 43 North, the Western New York Venture Association, and UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships. She spoke by phone with UpstartNY’s managing editor, Jana Eisenberg, about her take on the impact of COVID-19 and hopes for the city’s and the region’s future.
Jana Eisenberg: First, give us your synopsis of where we are now.
Kim Beldon Grant: I have always appreciated the historic and beautiful simplicity of Buffalo; you can network, make connections. Everyone says, “I got a guy”—you can get things done.
Cut to our recent momentum—we’re in a global economy, everything’s going gangbusters, we’ve got entrepreneurs, and we’re experiencing what’s been called a “renaissance.” We were at a point where Buffalo and the region had a voice, we were getting great press on what is happening. Then, COVID hits.
JE: What reaction did you see?
KBG: When that screeching halt happened, I was—and continue to be—amazed at how nimble Buffalo Niagara and the Buffalo community were. The last 40 years of economic depression has taught us to be resilient; we pivoted back to the simplicity of “I’ve got a guy.” In every segment, among entrepreneurs, manufacturing, life sciences, advanced business services, everyone really, I see businesses quickly moving to support each other.
JE: What is Invest Buffalo Niagara currently doing as far as economic development?
KBG: We are still working on attracting, though it’s tough to do with borders closed.
We’re also working to help companies already here to grow. They can do it in a couple of ways: things like increasing revenue, expanding markets, innovating, cutting expenses, and creating efficiencies where there weren’t.
JE: Can you give an example?
KBG: Yes, manufacturers are applying business tactics to improve where they’re spending. They are pivoting to address a new market; maybe a local advanced manufacturer was making one thing, now they are making personal protective equipment. They are beautifully positioned to be responsive. People and companies benefited from that nimbleness; some of them will ride this out and come out stronger than they went in.
JE: You seem to be optimistic.
KBG: I’d call it…“conservative optimism.” We have a few projects—businesses that were planning to move here—that were very far along before all this started. Now, it’s a little bit like investing. No one wants to be first in.
I am very optimistic, though we’re still in this kind of suspended animation. There’s a lot of pent-up demand. Pressure is building up as everyone is pushing from behind. People want to set up shop and start to have revenue come back in.
So these projects are still in the works, but there’s been a slight delay, they might have a little bit of cold feet. They are saying things like “I will still do it, but can you help me”—maybe waiting for the other shoe to drop and wanting to hold off for a few more weeks.
JE: So when the pressure is released, how will you and the InBN team support the activities?
KBG: We are working to make sure we have infrastructure and systems to support all of it. Be in Buffalo, our collaborative talent attraction campaign that showcases the positive ways there are to “Be in Buffalo,” will continue our virtual happy hours.
InBN has a new program called “Economic Gardening,” helping existing businesses create new revenue streams, and tap into the strengths that are here, like the life sciences, clinical trials, etc., making sure that we are going to end up better.
JE: What makes InBN stand out in the economic development arena?
KBG: We’re not funded by the government—our investors are the companies that want this region to be strong and vibrant; they are the people who make Invest Buffalo Niagara go.
We are responsive to the community: the utilities, the banks, the insurance and communications companies, the universities and colleges, the lawyers and accountants, automobile dealerships…really any entity that benefits from our region being vibrant is an “investor.” And they have a voice at the table.
JE: What makes you confident about moving forward?
KBG: We have a good handle on what our existing strengths are: things like back office, life sciences. Look at who has thrived here in recent decades: Geico, M&T, KeyBank, Independent Health, National Grid, National Fuel. That took foresight.
JE: We’re speaking as the region starts to reopen, in early June. What is your view now?
KBG: COVID has allowed us to take a beat and reassess. We are engaging more, and finding more willing investors who want to be a part of crafting the path and the way forward. We’ve heard them say that talent is the most important thing.
We recently conducted an assessment of industrial sites, and the conclusion was that we need more brownfield cleanup; we need to put Bethlehem Steel and other regional assets back in operation. Companies are saying, “This is where we want you to focus your efforts.” I feel lucky to be a part of our work, to see our programming and initiatives come from those companies.
JE: Is there anything you’d like to add?
KBG: Yes. We are all engaged in this process. Anybody willing and wanting to talk about business in Buffalo, call or email us. That’s the best way to engage, to have seat or voice at the table.
InBN is a sponsor of UpstartNY.