News Business reporters
Overall, 2023 was not a bad year for Buffalo Niagara’s business.
But it also wasn’t a great year.
The economy of the region continued to move forward. Unemployment remained at historic lows, below 4 percent, but job growth in the region slowed, leaving more than 10,000 jobs below pre-pandemic levels.
The region was chosen to be one of the finalists for a technology hub that could help jump-start the small tech sector here and play a role in the massive semiconductor facility planned in Syracuse.
But there were also scattered job losses. Republic Steel closed in Lackawanna, costing 178 jobs. Another 300 disappeared when Yellow Corp. closed its national transport business.
The region lost three of its publicly traded companies when Computer Task Group was acquired by a Dutch company; Life Storage was bought by Extra Space Storage, costing more than 100 jobs; and drug development firm Athenex went bankrupt and sold off its assets.
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Here’s a closer look at the region’s top business stories from the past year.
Construction begins on Bills Stadium.
The Bills officially broke ground on a new $1.7 billion Highmark Stadium in June. With the team committed to staying in Orchard Park for 30 years, any lingering doubt about the franchise’s long-term future in Western New York should become much like the stadium’s soon-to-be former: a thing of the past.
Since construction of a new stadium began in early June, work on the site opposite the current stadium has been moving at breakneck speed.
The construction site may now just look like a big hole in the ground, but below there are hundreds of workers building the foundation for the more visible and larger work to come. That will increase to thousands of workers at the site by the end of next year as officials try to reach a goal of hiring 10,000 people to work on the project.
Technical center offer approved
The three northern regions cooperated with each other, rather than competing with each other, for designation as a federal “technology hub”.
The tri-region application was one of 31 awarded technology hub status in a competition organized by the Economic Development Administration. But their work is not over yet.
Now, the joint application is trying to become one of 31 selected to receive up to $75 million in federal funds to launch its plans. They are working on submitting proposals for consideration. The joint bid focuses on creating a semiconductor corridor, tapping into projects already in New York state as well as those in the pipeline, such as Micron Technology’s large-scale chip manufacturing operation planned outside of Syracuse .
Allegations of Discrimination at Roswell Park
At least 15 former employees have filed lawsuits since 2015 accusing Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center of discrimination based on race, gender or disability, with the cancer center paying at least $4.67 million to settle six of those cases, The Buffalo News reported in April.
Also in mid-May, influential developer Michael L. Joseph resigned from his longtime position as chairman of Roswell Park’s board of directors after his development company was hit by a racial discrimination lawsuit.
Board member Leecia Eve was subsequently promoted to board chair; she is the first woman and the first person of color to have this role. Roswell Park also hired Buffalo Vice Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney as its chief diversity officer and senior vice president, a role the cancer center had long planned for. And amid public pressure, Roswell Park in August released a diversity report it has kept secret since its completion in 2022.
Large investments in local car plants
The United Auto Workers union went on strike against select plants operated by General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.
Local UAW members at the two GM plants and the Ford stamping plant were never directed to join the walkout. But UAW members at the three automakers will reap the benefits of the new labor contracts at the three automakers.
And the impact goes beyond the wages of UAW members. GM has pledged new investment at its Tonawanda engine plant, a facility whose role in the future of electric vehicles has been unclear. GM also confirmed a previously announced investment in the Lockport components plant. And Ford promised to invest in its Hamburg stamping plant, which the UAW said Ford wanted to close at the start of contract talks.
Medaille University is closing
For more than a year, Medaille University and Trocaire College planned to preserve Medaille’s financially struggling programs and jobs by having Trocaire acquire its neighboring university — staff, students, campus and all.
The deal was supposed to close last summer, with Trocaire acquiring all of Medaille’s assets — and debts — in time for classes to resume last fall. Instead, Medaille announced it would close permanently on August 31 after the deal suddenly fell through.
Neither school has revealed what happened, but Trocaire indicated that taking over Medaille will be a bigger responsibility than expected. The closing affected 420 employees and about 1,600 students, but schools in Western New York and beyond responded with “teach-in” offers to take Medaille students, as well as several disaffected former employees.
The legalization of cannabis is moving slowly
Watching New York roll out its retail cannabis program was something of a car crash — hard to watch but impossible to look away from.
When the state legalizes recreational pot sales in 2021, officials predicted at least 120 adult recreational dispensaries would be open by now. Instead, there are 32 — three of them in Western New York. Together, the 32 stores sold a total of $132 million worth of cannabis products, according to the Office of Cannabis Management.
The rollout was slow and patchy, halted twice by lawsuits. General licensing is now in effect, potentially preempting any further legal action against the adult retail dispensary program, which prioritizes applicants with cannabis-related convictions who are also New York businessmen. But there are fears more lawsuits could be on the way, and dispensary licensees are rushing to open their stores before another legal ban halts their progress.
The labor shortage continues
Those “help wanted” signs don’t go away. With the unemployment rate below 4% and the number of unemployed workers near historic lows, local businesses continue to struggle to fill open positions.
The labor shortage is driving up wages and also forcing many companies to change the way they operate to cope with fewer employees. The shortage is also one of the reasons the region’s recovery from the Covid-19 recession has been slow, leaving Buffalo Niagara with more than 13,000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic.
Buffalo State, ECC elects presidents
After national searches that spanned most of 2023, SUNY Erie Community College and Buffalo State University announced their next presidents on the same day, Dec. 6.
The ECC chose a familiar face, Adiam Tsegai, a former chancellor who has led the college since its last president, David Balkin, stepped down a year ago after just 11 months in office. Buffalo State has named Chance Glenn provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Houston-Victoria. Tsegai’s appointment was effective immediately, while Glenn begins his new job on July 1.
Both raids brought some drama, with the ECC board looking to replace a president whose program and staff cuts reversed a $9 million deficit but made him an enemy of the ECC teachers union, while Buffalo State held rumors that the mayor of Buffalo’s Byron Brown and U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins pursued the job. In the end, an academic won out, as Higgins is leaving his seat to lead the Shea Center for the Performing Arts, and Brown is considering a run for his seat.
Account turnover, swords
The Buffalo Bills business department was in some disarray.
John Roth, the Bills’ executive vice president and chief operating officer who also ran the Buffalo Sabres’ business operations, was let go in October — along with Bills general counsel Kathryn D’Angelo — after sources confirmed to The Buffalo News that they had had a romantic relationship that was deemed inappropriate since Roth was her superior.
Terry Pegula, the team’s owner and president, led the front office shakeup, less than three months after he fired Bills executive vice president/COO Ron Rakuya, who had been leading negotiations for a new stadium with Kim Pegula, who was suffering from a heart attack. arrest in June 2022
Josh Dziurlikowski fills the role temporarily. He is the only Bills executive left from the management team appointed to run the team’s business division after Roth was hired.
In August, Pegula dissolved Pegula Sports & Entertainment, the company that ran the family’s sports and entertainment holdings, while appointing himself president of the hockey team.
The trade separated the Sabers and Bills for the first time since the Pegula family purchased the latter in 2014.
Housing prices continue to rise
Rising mortgage rates and a shortage of homes for sale are weighing on Buffalo Niagara’s housing market, but prices continue to rise.
Median sales prices locally rose 5.2% over the past 12 months, but it was the first time in four years that the region did not see double-digit price increases. Pending sales this year – when a contract has been signed but the deal has not yet closed – were down about 8% from last year, falling to the lowest level since 2012.