Invest Buffalo Niagara lures companies to Buffalo from both sides of the border

Invest Buffalo Niagara is a privately funded, nonprofit organization dedicated to attracting new businesses and creating jobs in the eight-county Western New York region. Ninety-eight percent of its funding comes from local industry, and only 2 percent from government. The nonprofit primarily works with international companies, especially Canadian firms in Southern Ontario looking to expand their operations in the Buffalo area.

“We work closely with small and medium sized companies--business owners that have an existing percentage of sales in the U.S. and (who) want to open a physical location on this side of the border to support and service those U.S. sales,” said Carolyn Powell, director of business development, international. “That operation could be a manufacturing facility, it could be a warehouse distribution facility to support the U.S. side of their business.”

Invest Buffalo Niagara works as a concierge service to these companies and helps them navigate issues they may be unfamiliar with, such as legal, financial, and human resource matters. These can range from immigration and work permit issues, to establishing banking credit, filing taxes in the U.S., and moving money between operations in the two different countries. The nonprofit also assists these businesses with hiring and finding the right employees who have the skill sets they need to make their expansion a success.

“We help with workforce based on the type of people they're going to look to hire. What would those people cost? Are those people available? What are the skill sets based on their needs of people in our community? H.R. compliance differs slightly between the two countries, so we help to point out things that might trip them up in not knowing our area and the U.S.,” Powell explained.

Invest Buffalo Niagara also helps new businesses find suitable building location sites and assists them in determining which government programs they may qualify for that will help them set up shop in Western New York.

Powell pointed out that there are several reasons why Canadian companies are interested in operating in the Buffalo area. Western New York is culturally similar to Southern Ontario, so the ways of doing business are much the same.

Another important factor is close proximity to their Canadian headquarters or operations base. Buffalo is only a one- to two-hour drive from the Greater Toronto area, so business owners can travel to their Western New York location and be back home the same day.

A third consideration is cost savings. Electric power, especially for large companies, is often cheaper here than it is in Canada. A physical location in the United States also means manufacturers can put a “Made in the U.S.A.” label on their product and be eligible for U.S. government contracts, which they otherwise couldn’t receive.

Invest Buffalo Niagara has helped launch everything from five-person warehouse facilities to 200-person manufacturing operations. As a result, nearly 100 Canadian companies have expanded in the United States. These businesses have created more than 2,000 new jobs.

Among the success stories Invest Buffalo Niagara likes to share is about a Canadian company that makes protein powders for sports drinks, which purchased a building in Lancaster, N.Y., pledging to create 25 new jobs. Since then, the company has expanded the building and employ more than 300 at that facility.

Another company is a vegetable processing facility that was being required to relocate to the U.S. by one of their customers. Invest Buffalo Niagara helped them select a location in Medina, N.Y., where they bought some land and constructed a new building. They're pledging to create over 200 new jobs at that facility, and they invested over $30 million into the operation, Powell noted.

Even though Invest Buffalo Niagara usually works with Canadian businesses who want to expand into the United States, there’s also a domestic team that focuses on American companies who desire a Northeast location. One of the most famous successes the nonprofit had was luring internet search engine Yahoo!’s data center to the region.

“We worked on the Yahoo! project,” Powell said. “They're an existing U.S. company. They wanted something in the Northeast. And we worked with them to build that new facility up in Lockport. So, as much as we're working with and pursuing international companies, we're also pursuing companies that already exist in the U.S.”

Read more articles by Jeff Dahlberg.

Jeff Dahlberg is a freelance writer and the author of “Not Just Snow and Chicken Wings: Positive Stories About Buffalo’s Rebirth.” He was born and raised in Western New York. A University at Buffalo and Second City graduate, he longs for the day when both the Bills win a Super Bowl and the Sabres win a Stanley Cup.
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