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Emerging from the Shadows of Major Metros

By: Michael Wisler, CIO, M&T Bank

Michael Wisler, CIO, M&T Bank

For decades, technology jobs have been concentrated in major innovation centers on our nation’s East and West Coasts—cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, New York, and other headline-grabbing coastal behemoths. But today, things are starting to change. Many technologists are bucking the trends and beginning to leave densely populated expensive cities.

And as a result, mid-sized markets have begun to challenge the major tech metros in the race for relevance and talent.

Jobs in tech have continued to grow during the pandemic, which means there remains a deficit in talent to fill those positions. In creating employment opportunities, we’re simultaneously generating competition among emerging markets for the scarce resource of talent. So, what can a city like Buffalo, N.Y.do to secure its future as a dynamic tech economy and innovation center that attracts, retains, and cultivates an inclusive workforce with the skills our time’s demand?

In this period of technology-driven disruption, local economies are beginning to recognize the value of a new system—one that increasingly values ideas and innovation as major economic drivers.

"While Covid-19 has halted in-person assemblage, the creation of community and sense of place is essential for long-term investments that extend beyond the pandemic"

Rather than the traditional top-down, tightly-coordinated, centrally-managed approach, Western New York is embracing a modern innovation ecosystem that requires a commitment to a new set of behaviors. The new system embraces an environment in which the best ideas gain support and flourish and emphasize the importance of diversity, inclusivity, transparency, and flexibility.

To advance this system, we’ve identified several key imperatives for success.

Expanding Ecosystem through strategic investments

This new ecosystem requires a place to convene—modern workspaces that inspire connection and collaboration. While Covid-19 has halted in-person assemblage, the creation of community and sense of place is essential for long-term investments that extend beyond the pandemic.

M&T Bank is nearing completion of a new workspace inside a previously vacant Downtown Buffalo tower. This strategic investment was the catalyst for the Tech Hub at Seneca One, which anchors our vision to cultivate a thriving ecosystem where talented people of all backgrounds collide, learn from each other, and forge collaborative relationships that lead to new technologies and new solutions to issues affecting their companies and our entire community.

It also unites an innovation corridor that stretches from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus down the city’s Main Street to the Tech Hub and our waterfront area. This critical artery boasts high-tech companies, innovation-driven organizations, reliable public transit, and a vibrant cultural scene. It has become the epicenter of our region’s new economy.

Building creative density in this corridor will foster innovation. Importantly, it will also create jobs, generate startup activity, and stimulate the local economy by injecting capital into surrounding areas to fund new projects and upgrades.

To grow the momentum, we’ve formed a cohort focused on achieving something larger than our individual organizations. We have dozens of public- and private-sector partners, including 43North, a tech incubator that helped accelerate our region’s first unicorn ACV Auctions, and TechBuffalo. We’re champions outside of our region and advocates within by supporting initiatives like hackathons, meetups, and forums that encourage knowledge-sharing and coalition-building.

By prioritizing community and being transparent about our aspirations, our ecosystem continues to experience growth. Our Tech Hub recently added international business management software company Odoo to its roster.

Develop talent pipelines

While mid-tier markets like Buffalo once experienced Millennial departure to seek careers in emerging fields, studies show repatriation and growth in these regions in recent years—with the pandemic further inspiring residency in less densely populated communities. This is an opportunity to communicate the value of relocating to our market. For instance, relative to major metros, Western New York is an affordable, rising region where community members can make an impact. A recent Brookings study, “The case for growth centers: How to spread tech innovation across America,” identified our region’s potential to become one of the next dynamic U.S. innovation centers, and CBRE named Buffalo a 2019 “Up-and-Coming Tech Talent Market.”

To shake the stigma that grads need to leave to begin their careers, our cohort is demonstrating the breadth of opportunities within the community. M&T is on its way to creating 1,000 new jobs in three to five years and has launched a Technology Development Program, Odoo is staffing a local team, and 43North annually hosts a $5 million competition to identify startup investment opportunities. Additionally, TechBuffalo aims to create 5,000 net positive tech jobs in Western New York. By engaging local students early about these opportunities, we hope to build awareness and enthusiasm and improve talent retention rates.

We also recognize innovation ecosystems invest in and grow their own talent. Working with a globally recognized expert in technology instruction, we are building a Tech Academy within our Tech Hub. It’s a collaboration with community partners like TechBuffalo to develop a regional asset that will integrate continuous learning into offices and the community. It will provide opportunities to upskill and reskill the current workforce and help more of our neighbors gain access to in-demand skills for tech careers.

Collaboration is the key to winning in the Future

Success in this endeavor truly takes a village, and we believe Western New York has the heart and culture to advance in this new economy. We understand the fundamentals of the prosperity model have changed—and in Buffalo, we have responded by emphasizing collaboration among local governments, businesses, and community leaders to uplift our neighbors and make our region a destination-of-choice for entrepreneurs, creative class talent, and investment.

Weekly Brief

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