Newark Mayor Sees Hope for Buffalo

March 30th, 2011

Daniel Robison (2011-03-30)
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BUFFALO, NY (wned) – Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker Booker has earned accolades and international attention for his ability to attract employers and cut his city’s budget, all while dramatically lowering Newark’s high crime rate.

In a visit to Buffalo Wednesday, Booker drew comparisons between the city and Newark, especially in terms of the difficulty of creating employment after decades of decline.

Luring Verizon, a case study of a struggling area offering generous incentives

When Verizon flirted with building a data center in the Buffalo area, state and local entities offered the company hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives.

When Verizon walked away, some wondered aloud: what does it take to attract jobs to the area?

Newark Mayor Cory Booker says trying to convince employers to move to a depressed area without indiscriminately giving away taxpayer dollars is a common struggle these days.

“You’ve got to be really strategic and the bottom line has to work out. If you’re throwing money at jobs, I just think it has to balance out on the other end. That you’re going to get the economic benefit that’s commensurate. Or other benefits to your quality of life that are going to be the same,” Booker says. “[Rust Belt cities] just have to pull together and strategize. We don’t want to be in a race to the bottom in expending our public treasury in trying to attract jobs.”

Booker says former industrial powerhouses need to stress their inherent business advantages left over from the good old days in order to not rely so heavily on public-financed incentives. In Buffalo’s case, businesses will eventually take notice of the area’s relatively high number of colleges (and their graduates), proximity to Canada and thousands of parcels of available land, Booker says.

Buffalo and Newark: “Brothers from another mother”

Booker says Buffalo and Newark are similar in many ways, as they both lost jobs and population for much of the last half century. But trends will shift in Buffalo’s favor, like they have Newark, he says.

“I’m a big believer in cities and there was a logic as to why they started. Maybe the old industrial base has gone. But remember cities like Buffalo existed even before the Industrial Revolution for crying out loud,” Booker says. “There’s always something about a city with its infrastructure, with its history, its aggregation of arts, culture, education that can make it an attractive place to bring businesses.”

Citing the statistic that 80 percent of Americans now live in cities or their suburbs, Booker says America’s trend toward urbanization will eventually Buffalo survive and grow. That’s despite recent Census figures showing the city losing another 10 percent of its population last decade – one of the fastest rates of decline in the country.

During his brief visit (he was in town for a speech at the University at Buffalo about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.), Booker also discussed economic development with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

“I got a chance to meet with [Brown] earlier today and really think he’s got a vision for every day blocking and tackling, hitting singles and doubles. Occasionally you’re going to hit a home run. But the game is going to be shifting more and more to American cities and Buffalo is going to benefit, if not lead that,” Booker says. “Every city has something special to offer, I believe, and can re-invent itself.”

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