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November 13, 2008 - 10:28am

Entrepreneurs will lead Western New York's renaissance

Libertarian blogger/columnist Megan McArdle has deep roots in Western New York.

I love western New York, which may be the most beautiful place on earth.  I love the old cities, the Victorian shells that whisper of much happier days, and the broad, rolling hills, and the broad flat accents of the people who live on them.  I love waterfalls softly falling downtown and the Buffalo City Hall.  I love the place as you can only love somewhere that your family has been living for 200 years.  I would save it if I could.

But I can't save it.  Pouring government money in has been tried . . . and tried, and tried, and tried.  It props up the local construction business, or some company, for a few more years, and then slowly drains away.  Western New York has been the lucky recipient of largesse from a generous federal government, a flush state government, and not a few self-made men with happy memories of a childhood there.  And still, it dies.

Megan's post is arguing against using taxpayer money to stave off the failure of the Big-3 automakers in Detroit.

It's sounds like, though, she is against any number of government programs to help businesses start and grow, and there's a libertarian case to be made that government props get people overly dependant on handouts, killing entrepreneurial spirit

But what I really thought about as I read her piece was how the businesses that once employed so many people in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, as well as Batavia and LeRoy, didn't get their starts because Congress allocated a wad of cash to finance factories and office complexes.

These businesses got up and running because of the energy and vision of entrepreneurs -- often men, and some women, with little means, just an idea and the determination to see it become something worthwhile. They didn't look around Western New York and see obstacles or excuses. They saw opportunity.

WNY is a great place to raise a family and run a business. What's going to save it isn't government programs, but a new generation of entrepreneurs.

Batavia is doubly blessed because it already has a model for building new businesses with a track record of success -- the Harvester Center -- Joe Mancuso's sacred structure of entrepreneurship. To this day, as we reported yesterday, the Mancuso Business Development Group is already leading the way in helping new businesses get started.

I've toured the Harvest Center -- there is plenty of space available for any enterprising individual who wants to start a new business.

Also, Alice Kryzan may have lost the Congressional race, but her push for developing green industries in Western New York shouldn't be forgotten. In fact, we should encourage Alice to carry on with the effort.  She doesn't need to be an elected official to be an effective leader in bringing together business owners and bankers to help create new jobs. In fact, it would probably be preferable to promote the effort without, or very little, government assistance.

When I look at things like the Harvester Center, or parts for wind turbines being hauled down Main Street, or local farmers experimenting with alternative energy sources, or an increase in shipping on the Erie Canal -- when I see and read these things, it gives me hope for the future of Western New York.

There's no reason not to expect WNY's best days are ahead.

Notes: Though I occasionally read Megan's blog, hat tip to Buffalo Pundit for pointing out the post; Also, Megan uses a photo of the Kodak Building from Flickr credited to SailorBill.  Ironically, SailorBill is my boss. The picture at the top of this post is one I took myself two years ago.

C. M. Barons
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To understand why WNY is failing, economically, one has to look back at the history of WNY. The region, in general, was virgin real estate. It was bought up by investors and sold to homesteaders (or gifted as same for service in the Revolutionary War). The cities arose when two arteries for transportation were built- the railroads and the canal- presenting markets for surplus agricultural products. The business of those boom years supplied commodities that were consumed locally. Our gingerbread houses were decked in millwork from Batavia. SURPLUS was traded elsewhere. Communities were connected by rail and canal service. The canal is practically obsolete. The depots are gone. Most crops go in the silo. Our manufactured goods are imported. We buy from chain stores. We have no vested interest in our industrial base. ...And Kodak tower as a symbol of local industry? They moved their home office to New Jersey years ago! We need to stop investing outside our own region. Buy eggs from the local farmer- not the supermarket. Build local windfarms- not owned by corporations- owned by municipalities (people). Invest locally; keep wealth locally. Encourage farmers to set aside 10% of acreage for tomatoes, sweet corn, snap beans. Grow and consume local. The consumer has to pledge to buy local. Villages should invest in farmers' markets. Set aside a space for farmers to sell vegetables. Foster our local industries- encourage production of consumer goods. Above all- buy locally. Survival is not about real estate. Survival is about the investments we make in hometown. We need to turn off the TV and turn on Main Street.
Howard B. Owens
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C.M., I think your solution is absolutely right. We need to find ways to build self-sustaining communities -- at least as much as possible, it's probably more possible than many people realize.
Gabor Deutsch
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Mr. CM Barrons I agree. The railroads and canal brought business and factories to Batavia, something rhat the NYS thruway or Roads have never been able to match since. We have returned to the primitive pass thru and live else where. BUT: Many of farmers HAD to sell their land due to the government controlled subsities that paid area farmers to either not grow or only grow certain crops. Then the mills, canning, and livestock factories closed down. Farmers only had land to sell and "lived on a farm", while the large/industrial farmers "farmed for a living".
Mark Potwora
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CM help me out here..I agree about buying locally for produce that is grown here,why not its fresher.And i do,What am i spose to be buying locally on Main St.We all go to locally owned resturants,if we buy a car it from a dealership in the area..With all the chain stores in this area now there is no reason to shop out of town.. I think there is alot more as to why WNY is failing,its about good paying wages..I believe they are tring to attrack companies to set up shop here.But what is the cost of doing business in this area.Utilities,taxes,state regulations make it hard to built manufacturing plants here.So they give out tax breaks and such.Thats fine but why are they needed in the first place unless these are to high to begin with.It like why give all these tax rebates and star rebates out unless we are paying too much to begin with. Batavia thrived years ago because there were manufacturing jobs,lots of them all paying livable wages.They left New York for other states were it was cheaper to do business.And yes some left the country..Global economy..Question is what can New York do to make it cheaper to do business here.
C. M. Barons
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Unfortunately the solution goes beyond buying locally. Many commodities are no longer available on "Main Street." The solution is to INVEST in Main Street. Entrepreneurs have to count on customers. Customers need to accept that prices may not be competitive. By investing in Main Street, wealth returns to hometowns. By investing in Main Street, entrepreneurs will see a lower risk and become adventuresome in developing new businesses. As new businesses open, jobs will return. It will not be an overnight transition. It will not occur without a wide base of support. Many people will have to be re-educated to recognize the advantages. Those who adopt the course must recognize that it is a revolutionary concept. Imagine not having to make a 'shopping trip!' It took three generations to bankrupt our Main Streets. Most people haven't a clue when elders speak of local Main Streets circa 1959. How long will it take to convince 20 somethings that a thriving Main Street is essential? It's a matter of sacrifice and faith in the outcome.
Howard B. Owens
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C.M., There needs to be some business's on Main Street that attract twentysomethings. The restaurants are good, Main Street Coffee is good (for as long as it's around), but there needs to be some bookstores, bars and retail outlets that cater to that clientele. Now building that kind of business base would be hard enough in any non-college town, but Batavia is severally crippled in its options because of the Mall. Until that Mall is torn down and replaced with Main-Street-facing shops, the options for downtown to grow new businesses that target a specific kind of clientele will be limited. I think it's important we support the businesses that are downtown now, and encourage others to do so, but downtown is always going to be at a disadvantage until something is done about the mall.
Timothy Paine
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I would put a lot of blame on the Thruway when it comes to "driving" business out of our area. When I was an Owner/Operator just a few years ago I spent between $500 and $600 a week on tolls. Yes, per week. If you manufacture a product that has a tight profit margin how can you compete with other States. Other States already have lower property taxes and if you have to add $50 to $100 to each shipment how can you compete? I would pick up a load of donuts (I ran for Entenmann's) on Long Island. I would spend nearly $100 just to pick the load up after crossing 2 bridges. Another problem with the Thruway is how the State has a backwards way of looking at the revenue. The Thruway is built to handle trucks. State roads aren't constructed the same way. By forcing trucks off the Thruway our State roads need replacing 3 to 4 times as often. Which is cheaper? Replacing one road every 20 years or so, or constantly maintaining a bunch of roads every year? Our State is consistently ranked in the top 2 places in the U.S. for having an unlimited supply of the two things ALL companies say are the first two things they look for when choosing where to build a factory. It's not taxes, workforce or climate. They look for electricity and water, those are always #1 or #2. Even the cost of those items is secondary to their availability. Look at the western States, I don't care how much you're willing to pay for either they're just not available in an unrestricted capacity. We have huge supplies of the two biggest requirements companies look for but when you add on our high taxes and the cost of doing business here, we aren't viable anymore. Then add on trucking (something all manufacturing businesses need a lot of) fuel costs and tolls, what are companies going to do? I myself incorperated in NV, registered my trucks out of AZ and my trailers out of OK and all my insurances were out of GA. Those four things saved me about $6,000 a year by doing them out of State. We have so many things companies crave. Utilities, an educated and trained workforce, good schools, affordable housing (to buy anyway, taxes negate that) and access to shipping by land, air and sea, we have it all. Albany neutralizes all our benefits with high costs of doing business here, ridiculously high tax rates, terribly restrictive laws and requirements and they choke our ability to use the resources we have. We have everything we need in WNY to build and sustain one of the strongest economies in the nation. We have resources other communities just dream about. The only thing we lack is the ability for Albany to see past their noses. Even locally the same thing has happened for years. No plans past this or that current problem. Our City incurred massive debt because for too long no one saw beyond the current budget. Even this past year I saw 2 council members suggest not buying a police car or firemen's boots as a solution to the budget. Are you kidding me? These 2 "businessmen" don't know the difference between cutting spending and just delaying it? We live in an area with huge potential just to watch Albany take it away from us. Until they care about the State instead of the state of their personal bank accounts, we don't stand a chance.
Darrick Coleman
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Howard, in your catalog of the businesses that are "good" on Main Street you overlooked plenty of businesses downtown that should be attractive to twentysomethings (including a bookstore - Present Tense - which I co-own and which has a small but loyal following of young people, many of whom make a point of supporting the store when they are home on breaks or visiting family). My wife and I were both twentysomethings ourselves when we began the business three years ago and are proud of the fact that our business attracts people of all ages and we strive to have books and other merchandise that appeal to a wide range of people. The problem is not a lack of businesses downtown, although there is certainly room for more. I think it has more to do with the fact that there are very few jobs to keep young people in town, especially those who have college degrees. Once they have graduated, many people move to the cities or out of state simply out of necessity. Until jobs that pay decent wages - software, engineering, biotechnical and the like - are readily available in Genesee County, there is going to be an absence of twentysomethings here regardless of what happens to the mall. There is definitely hope for Western New York's future. But the key to realizing the potential of this area includes both encouraging firms to locate their businesses here and supporting the brave entrepreneurs who are already working incredibly hard to move this region in the right direction.
Russ Stresing
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Roughly 10 years ago, there were ads in the Pennysavers and in the Daily News by the downtown merchants that exhorted local shoppers to patronize the local merchants. This was largely a response to Walmart moving in. Being the loyal citizen that I am, I got home from work at 5 pm, ate supper, dressed the kids, and walked downtown to do some shopping. Nearly every merchant was already closed. The Mall actually had merchants other than Penney's at that time, but they were mostly closing up shop by the time we got there. Is that the case these days? As you can infer from my question, I haven't done much shopping on Main Street in a long time.

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