By James Fink  |  Buffalo Business First  |  May 22, 2018, 2:08pm EDT

Buffalo Regional Development Strong, With Room to Grow

While the Buffalo region is seeing more economic development activity than it has in recent decades, those in power and those with influence should not be resting on their laurels.

Just the opposite said a panel of local commercial development insiders, convened as part of Business First’s “State of the Region” series, sponsored by Phillips Lytle LLP.

Last year, more than $20.6 billion was reported in the eight-county area, but to assume that lofty figure will be equaled or surpassed is a false assumption.

“Let’s not be satisfied where we are,” said Nick Sinatra, founder and president of Sinatra & Co. Real Estate.

A concerted effort should be made to attract young companies, including start-ups, to the region. Initiatives like 43North have made some inroads, but more is needed.

“Detroit did it. Cleveland did it,” Sinatra said. “There’s no reason why we can’t do it.”

Targeted global outreach remains a priority, said Matt Hubacher, Invest Buffalo Niagara research director. He said the approach is working.

Invest Buffalo Niagara has been effective in putting the region on the map for Canadian firms and it also help bring such companies as HP Hood to Batavia.

“We are not taking a break,” Hubacher said.

Adam Walters, a Phillips Lytle partner and the firm’s real estate development practice team leader, said he believes the region’s economic resurgence — while several years old — remains in its infancy.

“My perspective is that we are in the second inning and still have a long way to go,” Walters said.

One thing all seven panelists agreed was that the upturn has diminished long-held feelings that “we’re not good enough” or the “it will never happen here” mindset.

There is also a stronger feeling of community ownership and passion when it comes to development projects, said Tom Dee, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. president.

“The mindset is completely different,” Dee said.

Evidence can be found locally in the development community and with investments being made by such out-of-town developers as Washington’s Douglas Jemal, who is undertaking a $100 million-plus renovation of the One Seneca Tower.

Much of the development landscape, however, will be made up of smaller projects, said Brendan Mehaffy, Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning executive director.

“Our priority is not just develop, but develop the right way,” Mehaffy said. “And, we are by no means done.”

Mehaffy said that includes all neighborhoods of Buffalo.

Buffalo has targeted development strategies for all neighborhoods. Some overlap. Others are more specific.

“The question remains how do you connect the dots?,” said Dennis Penman, Penman Development Partners LLC founder.

Connecting the dots also includes the suburbs and other places like Niagara Falls and Niagara County, said Shana Stegner, CBRE Buffalo managing director.

“The fact is, we see a lot of opportunity in Niagara Falls,” said Christian Campos, TM Montante Development president. “Niagara Falls is on that verge of a break though moment, just like Buffalo had its break through moment.”