By James Fink, originally published in Buffalo Business First on Sep 26, 2019, 2:22am EDT.

State of the Region: Concerns about recession, workforce training, social media

Adam Walters, Panelists, State of the Region Event

If economic forecasts are accurate, a recession could happen within a year.

How a slowdown would affect the region was one of several topics discussed at the Sept. 17 State of the Region on commercial real estate and development, sponsored by Phillips Lytle LLP.

“There’s a lot of talk about the real estate bubble,” said Adam Walters, a partner at the law firm who leads the real estate development practice. “Things that are happening on the national and international stage may have an impact in Western New York.”

Nick Sinatra of Sinatra & Company Real Estate said talk of a recession has developers wary.

“It is at the top of everyone’s mind about where we are on the (real estate development) cycle. That said, I do think our fundamentals are still strong,” he said.

TM Montante Development President Christian Campos said the region has a deep pool of strengths that could be a buffer such as fresh water, proximity to Canada, quality of life and Niagara Falls.

Campos said the city of Niagara Falls is poised to make a comeback, much like the one that began in Buffalo a decade ago.

“Niagara Falls is on the verge of breaking through,” he said.

Others on the panel were Royce Woods, executive director of the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center; Phillips Lytle partner Kimberly Nason; and Aliesa Adelman, Wendel associate partner.

Panelists said Buffalo’s East Side is ripe for development.

The area, which borders the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, has started to see projects such as the $50 million The Forge on Broadway and a 131-apartment complex called The Lawrence on Michigan Avenue.

“The East Side of Buffalo will look totally different in three or five years than it does today,” Woods said.

Regardless of a project’s location, there must be varying levels of return on a developer’s investment. In many cases, that requires public-sector incentives, panelists agreed.

“In Western New York, many projects don’t work without public and private partnerships,” Campos said.

That was the case with TM Montante’s Riverview Solar Park in Town of Tonawanda and the $150 million makeover of the Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital property in Buffalo.

TM Montante has been aggressive in terms of community outreach, especially with the Gates Circle project.

“We want projects that benefit everyone in the community,” Campos said.

Other issues discussed during the event:

Workforce training is essential. Woods pointed to Northland Beltline Redevelopment projects and the Northland Workforce Training Center as examples of developing the next generation of construction workers. But training centers need to tap into the millennial market, they said.

Social media can hurt a project more than help it. Nason said her clients are concerned that inaccurate information on social media will delay or derail a project. Yet “social media also helps give you an extra window into what people are thinking,” she said. “Social media is not something you can ignore.”

Green is in. Adelman said there’s a push to make projects more environmentally friendly by using solar power or any emission-reducing methods. “Technology doesn’t wait for policy,” she said.