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Officials 'aggressively' working on Erie County's shovel-ready shortage

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While it may seem as if there is a lot of vacant land around Western New York for potential industrial development, the experts say Erie County is developing a shortage.

Economic development requires land and buildings. Sometimes those buildings are old and can be adaptively re-used, as has been done a lot around the region for housing and for office space. There is a lot of that space left.

What is short is land for industrial development. To be truly shovel-ready, that land has to be zoned properly, be serviced with water, sewer, electricity and telecommunications.

Invest Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Tom Kucharski said there are not enough of those properties.

"It's starting to become a very acute problem and we're working aggressively, trying to fix it," Kucharski said. "We're trying also to work with all of the regional plans that are in place to identify brownfields and former sites that can be reused so that we're adhering to smart growth."

He said there has to be more money put into putting in those basic services, at least to the edge of the property, for when a company is interested in locating here and can see it is ready.

"We have vacant sites, but those are not ready or could be shown in earnest to prospects that are looking with a very short window," he said. "A lot of them do want to be near where the workforce is and be downtown - and now that downtown is coming back from a housing standpoint, that's where they're looking. But these are going to take quite a bit of time."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said economic developers look for those large pieces of property when prospective investors come calling.

Credit Michael Mroziak / WBFO News
Erie County purchased a large chunk of land where the former Bethlehem Steel plant once stood.

"We look at all sites, but we know it's key to have a sizeable amount of acreage, over 100 acres," Poloncarz said. "That's why the 150 acres or so that we're doing at the Bethlehem Steel site matters and that you have the infrastructure in place. So we've acquired the 148 acres. We're finalizing the cap there and then we move on to the next phase, which is putting in the road and the other infrastructure that's necessary. And we're looking to do that elsewhere."

While large sections of Buffalo's East Side seem empty and ready, Poloncarz and Kucharski both said it is more complicated than that. Does a remaining homeowner want a big factory next door? Light manufacturing?

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.