On March 26, Empire State Development
(ESD) announced the launch of a $12 million Buffalo-Niagara Talent Initiative to help cultivate Western New York’s tech workforce. The new initiative will train, attract, and retain tech talent to fuel the region’s continued economic transformation; as part of the initiative, the ESD board of directors approved a $2 million grant to TechBuffalo
, a not-for-profit that will partner with ESD to lead the initiative’s coordination and implementation.
To avoid duplicating efforts with other organizations, TechBuffalo will work to coordinate activities across ESD’s investment portfolio; develop a website that serves as a portal for overarching information on the Buffalo tech scene; host events and provide coordination between companies and job seekers; and implement a tech-specific talent attraction and retention agenda that cuts across the three strategies on behalf of ESD.
TechBuffalo has already begun to create connections, forge a consortium of Western New York employers, and line up programs from various educational institutions, private and non-profit organizations, and tech academies.
Even before the pandemic that has driven many businesses to shift suddenly to more digital models in every aspect, the world was already moving that way, says James Partsch, executive director of TechBuffalo.
“The challenges of this crisis have caused the shift to online, digital, work-from-home, etc. to accelerate—and that means that programs we’ll be providing and executing to reskill and upskill employees and potential employees will become even more important,” he says. “The need for technology talent across segments and skill levels will be great.
“As needs evolve, we’ll evolve our courses and training to meet the needs,” he continues. “And this includes working with traditionally underserved populations, and those in the workforce who have been displaced by the crisis. We want to make sure that everybody has a fair shot and access to the training and jobs they need.” According to statistics published by the Buffalo News, based on New York State Labor Department reports, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits in Erie and Niagara counties was expected to reach nearly 100,000 by mid-April.
Mike Moskal, a senior VP and CIO with local tech employer CUBRC, is the chair of TechBuffalo’s board of directors. “One reason TechBuffalo and its mission is interesting is that we’re really trying to help companies like mine and even firms like M&T, who need a large technology workforce, to attract and retain tech talent to Buffalo and Western NY,” Moskal says. “There are a lot of similar efforts going on, like the Buffalo Billion, 43North, Be in Buffalo—between all of these activities, ESD recognized that there’s a hole to be filled with coordination.”
Moskal acknowledges that these are trying times, and that there will be no quick solution for recovery. “From tech and other perspectives, Buffalo was strengthening; it will continue to be strong. I hope that the tech sector won’t take as much of a hit as things like retail, hospitality, and food service,” he says.
He sees hope with the mission of TechBuffalo particularly for companies like CUBRC, a $50 million, high-tech nonprofit with 150 employees in the Buffalo area. “We’re focused on research and development, with the majority of clients from the Department of Defense and the intelligence community,” he says. “We don’t do a lot of advertising and we have fairly low visibility. With the extent that higher visibility companies like Campus Labs and New Era Cap do to attract and retain tech talent in WNY—the challenges they face with recruiting in WNY—it makes sense that companies like mine will need help attracting and retaining the right employees.
“TechBuffalo’s goal is not just to fill jobs in IT and tech developing—we’ll facilitate and help get underserved populations employed in different areas of the economy,” says Moskal. “Our mission will be incredibly important in the next few years.” Partsch, the executive director, says tech jobs exist and the organization aims to make them accessible.
“TechBuffalo is creating educational programs as well as connecting with those on the industry side. We’ll make sure that the individuals coming out of our education programs have the platform to make those connections. We’re even working with many intern programs throughout the region, including some at UB. We foresee scaling it out, bringing students from schools outside WNY. Intern- and externships are great opportunities to live and work downtown.”
Partners who have already joined the TechBuffalo bandwagon include Trocaire College and ECC. Partsch adds that TechBuffalo’s aspirational vision for the region and its potential includes drawing employers with larger pools of remote workers, like Amazon, Google, or Walmart.
“Of all of Buffalo’s nicknames—Nickel City, Queen City, etc.—the one that’s stuck with me is ‘the City of No Illusions,’” says Partsch. “I think it comes from the confidence that kept us going through all the ups and downs; we have our eyes open, and take pride in what we have to offer. This is an amazing community, and a great place to live and grow a family. And we have abundant opportunities to share.”