Manufacturing is the third largest industry sector in the Western New York region, employing more than 66,000 people and generating $6.3 billion in gross regional product (GRP). Over the next 10 years, industry estimates indicate that, due to retirements and growth, there will be over 20,000 job vacancies in Buffalo/Niagara’s manufacturing sector. However, the region’s workforce does not currently have the employment skills to meet these demands. Filling that employment skills gaps is a top priority of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.
Enter the Northland Workforce Training Center (NWTC), a new hub focusing on training for careers in the advanced manufacturing and energy sectors. The model for NWTC was developed by Empire State Development (ESD), working in partnership with the University at Buffalo Regional Institute (UBRI), Western New York manufacturing and energy companies, and local community leaders. NWTC—located in a portion of the former Niagara Machine and Tool Works complex, now known as the “Northland Central” building—was created as the first of a two-phase, $127 million historic rehabilitation on the City of Buffalo’s historic East Side. The building also now includes Buffalo Manufacturing Works and two major private tenants, and anchors a larger, 35-acre Northland Corridor Redevelopment Area (Northland). Total funding for the NWTC and Redevelopment Area so far has included $70 million in New York State grants (including $29 million from the Buffalo Billion and $15 million from the New York Power Authority), $4 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds, and $57 million in various State/Federal Historic, Brownfields, and New Market Tax Credits, along with other private foundation and industry grants.
ESD and UBRI developed a unique business plan for NWTC to churn out highly-skilled workers in advanced manufacturing and energy sectors while targeting the region’s most underrepresented populations in the local workforce, largely residing on Buffalo’s East Side. While the actual training curricula is provided by SUNY Erie and Alfred State College, NWTC’s staff provides a comprehensive program of wraparound services implemented by “career coaches” who address barriers to successfully completing existing college-level training programs, including transportation, tutoring, substance abuse, debt mitigation/financial counseling, childcare, and soft skills. Placement specialists also match students with apprenticeships/internships, and assist graduates with obtaining permanent positions with local companies. Career coaches then provide critical follow-up for up to three years with the graduates and their employers to ensure success. The center graduated its first students in August 2019.
In December 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a strategic partnership between Northland Workforce Training Center in Buffalo and SUNY Empire State College’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor that will build on the Center’s highly-successful training model and will allow SUNY Empire to collaborate with the Center’s CEO and management team and put the growing Center on a path to long-term economic sustainability. Empire State College will provide NWTC with $10 million in academic, student, and other support over five years.