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Poloncarz: Metro Rail, Wi-Fi, convention center keys to creating jobs

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the Buffalo Metro area has added 20,000 private sector jobs in the last five years and that is nice, but he wants more. He told an audience at Daemen College Monday his "Initiatives for a Smart Economy" is being upgraded to version 2.0.

He told the audience the county's economy is improving because economic development efforts are looking across the board, trying to peg efforts to what can work, whether it is building on the region's agricultural history or persuading Canadian companies in Toronto to come to Erie County. Poloncarz says what has happened is good, but it can not only be better, but better across the board in a diverse population.

"There are a percentage of our population that is still looking for a job," he said. "If you look at the latest unemployment figures, it's roughly 5 percent. Now, you're always going to have unemployment at some level. Usually, you don't drop anywhere below 3.5 percent. 5 percent, okay, that means there is still a portion of the population that's looking for jobs."

Poloncarz says a key goal is making sure more segments of the community get some of those new jobs, whether on the East Side or in the county's rural corners, where there are fewer opportunities.

"There's various reasons for that, from lack of having the infrastructure in place to even things like high-speed Wi-Fi, high-speed internet," he said. "If you're a business leader and you've got a business, you don't want to go to a place where you can't get high-speed internet. Well, there's a lot of parts of Erie County, in the inner city as well as in the rural areas, where you can't get high-speed internet."

Poloncarz says his version 2.0 includes greater efforts through better job training, building agri-business on farming, extending the Metro Rail to help get people around, possibly alleviating the congestion issues around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and building a new convention center. The County Executive says the need for a new convention center is clear, with only the details to be locked in.

"Our's is old. We need a new one," he said. "We're doing a study. The county is paying for it. So we're doing a study. We're not doing a study to say whether we need a new convention center. That we know. We need a new convention center. But before we can go ahead and build a new convention center, we need to know the size, what works, what can we do, how many bays would we need to have, based on the size of the convention center so the trucks can load up?"

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.