Upstate New York once had a proud reputation as a hub of America’s manufacturing sector, with major companies like Kodak and others providing both top-notch manufacturing jobs and a commitment to local innovation that caused Buffalo to become one of the biggest cities in the Great Lakes region of the country.
Since that heyday, however, manufacturing has declined and innovation has seemingly shifted from Upstate New York to northern California. That is, until a recent announcement by IBM committed to creating hundreds of new, high-paying tech jobs in downtown Buffalo.
Agreement with New York State Brings Jobs to Buffalo
Since being elected in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pursued a transformation of the New York economy, away from manufacturing and toward jobs in both information technology and nanotechnology. That’s where IBM comes in.
The company announced in 2014 that it was interested in dramatically expanding its IT operation, perhaps to include as many as 6,000 new hires nationwide.
The Winner: Buffalo
The company then went looking for new cities where it could build regional hubs and grow its workforce. Though IBM considered several New York cities and other cities throughout the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, Buffalo ultimately won the largest share of these non-headquarters jobs.
All told, IBM will bring 500 new jobs to downtown Buffalo, primarily in IT and software engineering. These IT jobs are largely aligned with the company’s IBM Watson artificial intelligence project.
Watson, which is perhaps most famous for competing on several episodes of “Jeopardy!” several years ago, remains a core focus of the company and is described as being the future of IBM’s apps and services.
100 Additional Jobs
In addition to the 500 jobs that are being created in Buffalo in the IT sector, IBM in early 2016 agreed to bring 100 more jobs to the city as part of its nanotechnology workforce.
This expansion of jobs in Buffalo has been paired with a broader expansion throughout the state of New York. By the end of the decade, the company will create no fewer than 3,100 IT and nanotechnology jobs throughout New York State, with 600 of those jobs being based in Buffalo.
Grants and Tax Incentives
Due to agreements with both Buffalo and the State of New York, IBM will receive several grants and tax incentives to bring these high-tech jobs to the east coast.
The company will receive funding as part of the $55 million Buffalo IT Innovation and Commercialization Hub project, which is designed to revitalize the city’s downtown office core and draw high-tech jobs to the area.
The Empire State itself will add tax breaks and incentives that make the new jobs far more profitable for IBM, enhancing a long-term commitment between the tech company and the state government.
IBM to Renovate and Occupy Buffalo’s Key Center
Perhaps the most glaring reminder of Buffalo’s storied legacy as a major commerce hub among the Great Lakes is its downtown, where many buildings are vacant or near-vacant. The Key Center is one such near-vacant facility.
History of the Complex
The office complex, comprised of two twin towers and a shared plaza, was once the home of Key Bank. Bustling throughout the day, the financial institution’s headquarters eventually moved out of Buffalo, took virtually all Key Bank employees out of the city, and left the facility largely abandoned.
Prior to IBM agreeing to a long-team lease in the facility, the largest tenant was Labatt Brewing Company, which has its U.S. headquarters there.
Renovations Under Way
IBM is currently renovating the space, turning it into less of a cubicle-dominated financial center and into more of a bustling technology hub. The company paid $15 million to purchase the office space from the previous tenant.
In addition, IBM will spend up to $40 million on cutting-edge IT equipment and essential renovations in the space.
Upon completion, IBM intends for its regional office to be a “hub” of IT and nanotechnology for all of Western New York. The company has not ruled out buying more square footage in order to support future job additions at the site through 2030.
Beyond Buffalo: IBM Jobs Throughout New York State
IBM is the latest in a flurry of high-tech jobs announcements from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who promised during his reelection bid to make New York’s Upstate region leader in IT, nanotechnology, and biotechnology.
IBM is moving an additional 2,600 jobs to the state, in cities like Utica, Rochester, and Syracuse, as well as New York City, as part of a long-term commitment to the state.
In order to support expansion in Buffalo and beyond, the government has set aside $25 million in reserve funds that can be used to buy the necessary office space to support this influx of high-tech workers.
The government can then lease back this office space at a discount to IBM, which is one of the primary “sweeteners” that helped IBM commit more than 3,000 jobs to the Empire State in 2014.
A Bright Future in Buffalo
IBM is currently hiring for 500 IT positions and 100 nanotechnology positions in Buffalo, all of which will be based in the south tower of the Key Center.
The company estimates that it will fulfill its staffing needs by 2018, and it reserves the right to further expand its staffing requirements at the Key Center through the end of the decade.
It’s a stunning turnaround for Buffalo and represents what could be the real promise of a renewed, high-tech downtown that is once again the hub of the regional economy.