Skip to main content

Prodigals returning to Western New York

By Howard B. Owens

The story is about young people returning to Buffalo, but it probably could apply to any Western New York town, including Batavia.

The Buffalo area has lost a huge share of its younger population to other places, as U. S. Census numbers routinely show. But Burns is part of a segment of the population heading the other way, looking to return as their priorities change. Often they are people in their late 20s or early 30s who want to be near family, familiar places they grew up around, and crave a lifestyle with a pace different from larger metro areas.


A recent story in New York magazine is calling attention to the area’s low cost for living space and how it has helped persuade some Buffalo expatriates living in New York City to come back. As of late last week, the article was ranked the most read, commented on and e-mailed story on the magazine’s Web site.

Part of the article dealt with the price chasm between New York City and Buffalo for homes and apartments, as well as the difference in the amount of living space that comes with those costs. One couple gave up a tiny Brooklyn apartment for $1,300 a month for a spacious place in Buffalo for $795 per month.

Realtors interviewed said the region’s home prices could be a draw for young people who have tried living somewhere else but now want a place where they can afford to settle down.

“The crucial thing is the lifestyle,” said Phil Aquila, general manager of M. J. Peterson Co. “You can have a lifestyle here because you can afford to live here.”

Are there prodigal sons and daughters returning to Genesee County?

While jobs are not in abundance, there are jobs here, and it's never been easier to work from home or start you're own business.  When compared to most major metro areas, you can't beat housing prices and it's a heck of a lot less crowded, smoggy and crime-ridden.

Gabor Deutsch

You are right and you are wrong.

"Are there prodigal sons and daughters returning to Genesee County"? mr. Owens wrote.

I hope not right now it can only mean that they are so unsuccessful that they need a free ride.

"there are jobs here, and it's never been easier to work from home or start you're own business". mr. Owens wrote.

I have to fight younger people just to get a minimum wage job. ( do you want fries with that ? )

At my age and as many easier work at home/owner of a business opportunities that didnt work I can say "good Luck ".

I do agree that :

Batavia is a GREAT place to live.

The Nation's Economy is why these things are happening.

It's a positive step to bring the younger and well educated workers back to Batavia PERIOD.

I disagree because:

The most financial gains I have received were NEVER due to working in Batavia.

For a small "home town" Batavia is in the same kind of financial turmoil as buffalo mainly with the politics.

Batavia is still part of WNY and will continue to take a financial beating because there is no real future of long term jobs.

I know someone in Puerto Rico that has a sucessful business and will move the hell out of there as soon as they can.

They will only return when they have to for financial reasons even though they are "family orientated".

Buffalo is bigger but hurting, so Batavia is hurting too.

You didnt mention that Batavia is a leading attraction in Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation hub for Buffalo and Rochester. While this brings jobs to that line of educated work force, and government grants, it inevitabely leads to unemployable people in our area using the systems money set aside for established Batavians with the same kind of background.

The biggest point I will make is that Batavia is a leader in Mental Health Consumers. If they keep cutting funding then the people who live and struggle in Batavia will just end up in Prison .

No grants, and no funds for Batavia's economy.

Outsourcing has been Batavia's achilies heel ?

My opinion.
Gabor David Deutsch

Aug 31, 2008, 5:11pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

There are a number of good companies based here -- such as Graham Corp. There are also agencies available to help enterprising young people start businesses. There is no reason WNY in general, and Batavia in particular can't have a growing economy. It's a great town, the region is beautiful, the opportunities for recreation, personal growth and entertainment are spectacular, and the cost of living is low.

Aug 31, 2008, 6:12pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

Batavia is really quite a nice, little city. During my travels with the Navy, I visited many big cities in Asia, was homeported for two years in Yokosuka, Japan (pronounced "Yuh-koo-ska"), made port-of-call stops in Australia and Africa, lived for two years in Iceland and eight months in the Indianapolis metro area. For several years after my service, I lived as a self-employed (sometimes) civilian in the Philippines, right around the time that Benigno Aquino was assassinated and the groundswell of civil (remarkably civil, in fact) revolution began to grow. Each and every place had its own appeal and problems.

Upon returning to the WNY area, I took a job in Depew, got transferred to Orchard Park, then to Binghamton, and on to Connecticut. The greater NYC metro area (in reality, much of CT serves as a suburb for The Big Apple) without the sights and attractions of the city itself left me unimpressed, so we (by then it was five of us) moved back to WNY. I took a job with a company that finally settled me in Batavia. After less than a year of exposure to Batavia and in consideration of a twice-daily 45 minute commute that increased during the "snow corridor" season, the place looked really, really good. So good, in fact, that I've passed the last 18+ years in and around Batavia.

Three of my four kids have moved on to other areas, in the Southeast. First, for school, and then for personal reasons. Nothing would make me happier than to be close to my family but we make different decisions for different reasons. I respect their decisions and give them every credit for striking out on their own. I have 3 adult offspring ('adult children' sounds silly, yet 'offspring' sounds clinical, but I'm going with it) that were raised to be very independent and skeptical and pragmatic. I did handicap them all with an over-attenuated sense of perceived injustice, but they have a better handle on that than do I. I wish they were closer but such is life. There have been urgings from that front to move. Momentarily considered, the feeling faded quickly. They and I have different needs and goals. They're young and ambitious. I'm older and cranky. And to be honest, there's not as much here for them as there is for me.

Batavia and the surrounding areas have any number of assets that I could point to as supporting my decision but the single one that keeps me here is the realization that so many people with so many different opinions, backgrounds, goals and philosophies are willing to invest themselves so heavily in making things work. Some people consider making more money a prerequisite to a higher standard of living. But, maybe a higher standard of living entails settling. Yeah, that's right, 'settling'. Maybe a different standard is deciding that there are things you won't trade away, but more importantly for me, things you won't put up with. I don't have the patience nor tolerance for rudeness, bustle, nor inconsiderateness that I once had. Nor do I have much capacity for keeping quiet about it. Knowing that the progress of time and nature has increased the odds that I'll get my ass kicked if I can't keep my trap shut (and I can't, so I would), I choose to live in an area where people are mostly courteous, mostly deliberate, and reflexively considerate. Sure, you get the small percentage of people who aren't all those things or an even smaller percentage who are none of those things. But the weight of public opinion and the enormous depth of character of the majority make for small incidence of misbehavior, relatively speaking.

It repeatedly impresses me that for all the "sturm und drang" of local politics, people around here get things done pretty well. Batavia's and Genesee's reactions to crisis, deficit, calamity are way out of proportion to the size of the problem and area. Not that the reaction is overwrought but that the amount of work and concern produced relative to the problems is much greater than in bigger areas. If you're a concerned, dedicated, public service minded person, you can make a much greater difference for many more people here than you could elsewhere and Genesseans (taking corrections and suggestions here) take great advantage of that.

I have the greatest admiration and appreciation for people who want to make a big difference on the big stage. It takes great determination and a thick skin to push oneself to accomplishing the greatest good for the greatest number. One of the tenets that I live by is "Don't judge other people by your own limitations". Just because you're not capable of or open to something, it doesn't mean someone else is to be criticized for greater ambitions or understanding. People are different and differences may define us, but don't necessarily separate us.

But, I appreciate the people of this area for trying to do the best for this area with what it has to offer them. To leave is not surrender nor is staying an admission of defeat. Its simply different paths for different people. Both decisions can be appreciated and respected.

Aug 31, 2008, 7:00pm Permalink
Gabor Deutsch

I see your point.

I guess that if you can afford a reliable car, afford gas prices, are well educated, dont mind long commutes to and from a job outside of Batavia, pay more for items to support ma & pa shops, everything is peachy.

The housing prices in Batavia have dropped so low that it is a buyers market.

Hmmmm, why are so many people selling ?

I dont need to explain the statistics of failure of starting your own business, although I commend GCC and their wonderful programs.

I feel like I am the only one that see's the big picture.

I choose to stay in Batavia, but I think things need to get better before everyone runs back here to live and thrive.

If Batavia doesnt stay small then we would have the same type problems as Buffalo or Rochester.

I just feel like most people that live and prosper in Batavia are less likely to complain or feel the same kind of pain that struggling batavians do right now.

I think that my experience and hardships have opened my eyes to some downsides on the "less fortunate Batavia residents" that struggle so hard to make a living that they dont have the time to even debate issues like these.

my opinion.
Gabor David Deutsch

Sep 1, 2008, 7:00pm Permalink
Daniel Jones

I'm commuting to Canisius College in Buffalo presently, and I can tell you, it's worth every mile and gallon of gas. The prices (even the chain stores out in Buffalo are more expensive) and the people here make it hard for me to refuse staying in Batavia. I may branch out and go somewhere else for Law School, but I love this community and I will always come back here....we may have problems, but as John F Kennedy said "Human problems are never beyond human solutions,".

Sep 1, 2008, 7:04pm Permalink
Gabor Deutsch

That's my point !
When things are going great for YOU !
Why complain or help make change.
I wish I could afford Canisius, but I respect you and your opinion.
Its too bad you couldnt keep that tuition money here in Batavia.
I hope that after you spend so much money on your education you can afford to come back and work in Batavia.

Sep 1, 2008, 7:14pm Permalink
Daniel Jones

I'm from a single parent family (with two kids and a mortgage) and money is tight, luckily because of my grades I got good scholarships....I'm no rich boy, we've always had to make due with what we had, I've worked since I was 14 (one summer almost 80 hours a week) to have what I have today, I'm also going to come out of Canisius in significant debt due to student loans.

Please don't assume things that you aren't aware of, you don't know my situation.....we don't have alot of money, but my family (especially my mother, who herself worked her way through law school and settled on family law, not alot of money to be made, but she did it because she knew that it was right), this community and my work in and outside the classroom propelled me to where I am now.

Thank you.

Sep 1, 2008, 7:56pm Permalink
Daniel Jones

And by the way, I've committed most of my life since I was 16 to trying to make change for this community and trying to make things better for working people.

Sep 1, 2008, 8:01pm Permalink
Daniel Jones

Well, thats my other point, if I'm going to be working right off the bat a law firm in Buffalo or Rochester, with rent prices as cheap as they are here as opposed to Amherst or Greece and crime rates as opposed to living in either city, living in Batavia is a no-brainier.

As far as my student loans as are concerned, I'll deal with that when the time comes, with a college degree I should be able to start working in a field that is able to afford my loan payments, I'm not going to be living a lavish lifestyle, I'll just be getting by....but I'll make it work. I'll deal with all of that when the time comes.

Sep 1, 2008, 8:07pm Permalink
Gabor Deutsch

This is a good point.
I never met my birth parents.
I have brothers & sisters I met once.
I was never adopted.
I grew up in an abusive foster home, cluster home, group home.
I graduated high school.
I was in the Air Force.
I worked crappy jobs my entire life.
I attend GCC and almost have Business degree.
I owe student loans.
I am 42.
I cant get a decent job.
My only child died.
I am disabled.
I have volunteered for two years for Genesee County.
I live here.
I wont speak of things I dont know...

Sep 1, 2008, 8:21pm Permalink
Mark Potwora

It cost more to live in the city of batavia then any other area ..
including monroe county..44 dollars per thousand is huge..for ex. Brighton is only 32 dollars per thousand..those are for all taxes city ,county,and school..So when they say people are moving back to western
new york i dont think they mean Batavia..Just to costly..In fact we are losing population..Also the jobs around here dont pay that much..maybe between 12 -17 dollars..

Sep 1, 2008, 9:15pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

I should, of course, be ashamed of myself, but I've learned to live with the handicap of determined ignorance.

"I was so poor," jokes Ringo, "that I had to hop to school. We only had one shoe."

Sep 1, 2008, 9:32pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

I just don't buy that there are not opportunities in Batavia for people who are determined -- which means, education, hard work and a willingness to get ahead. There are many great businesses here, and any entrepreneur can use Batavia as a great launching pad.

But then I'm prejudice -- the whole reason I picked Batavia as the place to start this web site (with my company, I could have picked just about any city in the US), is because I believe in Batavia and its economic opportunity.

Sep 1, 2008, 9:49pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

Since when isn't $17 an hour livable? I made do on less than that and had four kids, two of whom went through Notre Dame High School.

Even at $12 an hour, chinstraps are reasonable. Buy one and strap it on. Life's tough.

Sep 1, 2008, 9:57pm Permalink
Daniel Jones

If I had a 17 dollar an hour job my personal standard of living would skyrocket.

I'm not patting myself on the back when it comes to being able to go to Canisius either, really, I owe almost all of the success to my Mother and my Grandfather (may he rest in piece) and my family, they were always there for me (and would give me a kick in the rear when nessecary), and to the people of Batavia, both taught me values, values that are needed to succeed.

I agree with Howard, we need to start thinking positivley about the future, we need to tackle our problems (high taxes, the pains of losing many industrial jobs) with a new vigor, a spine of steel and optimism for the future. It won't be easy, but America wasn't built on the thought that everything would be easy, it was built on challenges that have defined our nation's character.

I do consider myself a tough person, even if times are difficult, I love Batavia enough to at least try to tough it out here.

There is nothing more that I want to do to than serve this community, and I will.

Sep 1, 2008, 10:07pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

$17 per hour is $35,000 a year. Not great, not bad, either. I think there are a good number of people who would be quite happy with $35,000 a year in Batavia. If we could find ways to create more $35K jobs in Genesee County, there would be no concern about the region's future. Yes, we would all like to make six-figure salaries, but a lot of people would love to make $17 an hour. And if more people in GC made $35K, then there would be more people making $70.

What we need are young (or old) people willing to settle here and start businesses and create jobs.

There is nothing inherent about Western New York that makes it an unattractive place to start, grow and do business, nor work, nor live.

I'm just not going to accept that there is no opportunity here. Opportunity is what you make it. And I'll do my damnedest to promote that reality.

Sep 1, 2008, 10:19pm Permalink
Mark Potwora

If you make 17 an hour..that 34 thousand a year..take out taxes .state, federal,ssi .Then take out city county and school tax..dont forget sales tax of 8 %..or the tax on much do you have to pay for a mortage,food,utilities ,and a carpayment..maybe when taxes were less it was livable, but if you have a family its not possible..

Sep 1, 2008, 10:19pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

I have a family. 4 kids. Its possible if you make sacrifices and compromises. You deal with what you have and you do without. You walk when others drive. You deal with an antennae when others have cable. You do what it takes if you're determined.

Mark and the rest, if you want to piss on my parade, find a taller building.

Hope lives in the penthouse.

Sep 1, 2008, 11:23pm Permalink
Gabor Deutsch

I am ashamed of myself.
I live on 687 a month when not paying for medication.
There are a lot of things I am not willing to lick.
I am willing to lick boots for 17 bucks an hour, but after they take taxes away what is the net ?

I have a friend that has it made.
He gets non-disability money,heap,foodstamps,medication, FREE, and works for people that give him cash.
He has use of a vehicle, free cell phone, and eats for free.
Is it legal ? No.
Is it Right ? no.
Who pays for it? You do.
I am not asking for a free ride, I am asking for opportunity. I may never see it but hopefully our future generation will see it.

Sep 1, 2008, 11:44pm Permalink
Jerome Grasso

Believe it or not there is actually a shortage of workers for some of the highest paying jobs in Genesee County. These jobs are skilled trades such as welders, machine operators, etc. Average pay between $18 and $25 an hour. The GCEDC (Genesee County version of an IDA) has been very successful in creating and retaining new business. Per Site Selection Magazine (a national publication for business location and re-location), little Genesee County ranks in the top ten areas for creating new business. They have a record for getting companies to hire and stay here after said company gets a tax break. The GCEDC is viewed across the state of NY as how an IDA should be run. Other IDA's may need reform and ours is the model they are looking at. On the issue of taxes in Brighton, correct me if I am wrong but they are actually closer to about $44 per thousand and houses there are assesed higher than here (you will then pay more in taxes). Yup, taxes are way to high here but the housing stock is affordable and we have really good schools.

Sep 2, 2008, 7:56am Permalink
Charlie Mallow

Jerome is right about the cost of housing in GC. It’s cheaper to live in GC, period. My friends at work, who live in comparable neighborhoods on the East Side of Rochester, are paying through the nose in taxes. Regardless of the tax rates, the cost of our homes is about half what it is in comparable suburban neighborhoods in Rochester. The quality of living is also a lot higher. That’s why I live in GC. I wasn’t born here and have no roots. I choose to live in Batavia and cost of housing is a major reason that I can afford to do that.

This entire area of NY has a problem attracting good paying jobs. The GCEDC does a great job and our county is a lot better off than it should be because of their work. As for this cost of living argument, in relation to other WNY locations we are better off because of the cost of our housing stock.

I’ll give you the fact that I pay the difference in gas and time spent driving but, my family and living environment is much better than those who I work with.

Sep 2, 2008, 9:11am Permalink
Daniel Jones

I have no time for pessimism.

Mr. Grasso (we actually agree for a change) is dead on, in comparison to living in Erie (been there done that) or Monroe county it's much more cost efficient to live right here in Genesee County, the cost of living and housing is much lower here than it is in the suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester, this area has potential for economic growth. Companies such as Graham Manufacturing and other shops have been looking for workers, organizations in Batavia such as BID (Business Improvement District) are already doing a great job trying to start some sort of revival.

Really though, we need to get out of this all-consuming mindset that Genesee County is somehow this terrible place to live. Do we have problems? Of course we do, every community does, but our problems are human created, I'll quote President Kennedy again when he said that "Human problems are never beyond human solutions,".

Sep 2, 2008, 11:48am Permalink
Daniel Jones

I also agree with Mr. Grasso on our own IDA, the others aren't working, ours is, I think that our IDA should be used as a model for the rest of the state.

Sep 2, 2008, 11:50am Permalink
Mark Potwora

Here's where i got my infromation..'m not a pessimist,i'm a realist..I try search out the facts..And im not saying there arent bright spots of growth in western new york..My statements are based on living in the city of Batavia..The city has many good points..City school and property tax rates are high...I was just looking up teachers pensions in the Batavia school district.Their is one person on that list that makes 80,000 a year pension.Its little things like that, that cause us to be taxed as high as we are.. They need to come down.Taxes in this area are eating up more of your income then ever before.So that 17 dollars and hour wage is harder to live on then it was just 5 years ago..Batavia is a great place to be,and i want it to be a place of growth.I believe this will happen when we find ways to lower tax rates in this city.Hopefully this will increase the city's tax base.There are alot of empty buildings in downtown Batavia.So i hope the downtown revival works.I,m all for it .And will spend my dollars here when it is at all possible.So that's my rant..tear it apart if you want..I remember a time when it took only one paycheck to raise a family.And Batavia was a very prosperous city.Why cant we have that now..

Sep 2, 2008, 12:33pm Permalink

Authentically Local