More than 200 concerned residents -- not all from Alabama -- turned out Thursday night for a more than two-hour presentation on a proposed high-tech manufacturing park.
The park, known as WNY STAMP (WNY Science & Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park) may be the Genesee County Economic Development Center's most ambitious project yet.
And while the handful of residents who spoke may have asked skeptical and probing questions, nobody at this meeting really spoke out against the proposal.
The 15-year-build-out plan calls for the creating of more than 9,000 new, permanent jobs in 6.1 million square feet of manufacturing space. There will also be 180,000 square feet of retail space and a new town hall and museum in the southeast corner.
GCEDC officials pitched the project as one that would create good-paying, 21st Century jobs (average annual wage, $58,000), reduce the brain-drain of youths leaving WNY, provide new revenue for community services, enhance the local infrastructure and potentially reduce property taxes.
Of course, these jobs and all of this new revenue in the community is only created if businesses decide to build new high-tech manufacturing plants -- such as flat screen monitors, computer chips and solar cells -- in STAMP.
Some residents wanted to know why GCEDC thinks -- especially with the seemingly slow adoption of Buffalo East by new companies coming to town -- that any manufacturers will set up shop in STAMP.
Mark Masse, project manager for GCEDC, explained that in the past couple of years, GCEDC has fielded a few inquiries about appropriate locations from the types of businesses that use STAMP, but because STAMP hadn't even completed the earliest of approval processes yet, the companies had to look else where.
"What they're interested in is 'speed to market,'"said Roger Pearson, lead consultant on the project.
He said they need to know that they can get their new plant open in 12 to 18 months, and right now, if a business committed to the park, it would take much longer than that before they could open.
That speed to market was a concern of John Hatch, too. He's a UB student from Amherst and he wants to work in the kinds of industries STAMP will hopefully attract.
"I'd like to see this happen so I can stay in the area," he said.
Macomber Road resident Mark Williams wanted to know if GCEDC had a guarantee from the New York Power Authority for the cheap hydro power these companies will want for their operations.
Masse said, "There's no guarantees in life. ...But, "if we had a significant client come in, the New York Power Authority is will to work with us to ensure power."
Others wanted to know who was going to pay for the infrastructure development that needs to take place to attract these businesses.
Pearson explained that a project like this is really "shovel ready lite." The goal is to get all of the permits and environmental review processes completed, decreasing the amount of time it takes to build a new manufacturing facility. Much of the infrastructure, he said, wouldn't be built until it was needed and those costs would be covered by developers.
Pearson warned that the project plan presented Thursday is still evolving and some aspects may change as it goes through the planning and permitting process, and some of the changes will be based on feedback from the community.
A draft environmental review is expected to be completed by the end of March, with the final review completed by the middle of July.