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Northland project brings job training to East Side

Thomas O'Neil-White
Northland training center takes shape

On Buffalo’s East Side, a new job training center is taking shape. Officials and residents hope it will address the community's high unemployment rate, while boosting development in that area – and across the city.

Heavy machinery roars along the Northland Corridor, just south of Erie County Medical Center. The area had long been a place lost to time, with old buildings dotting the area.

But that’s changing with The Workforce Training Center, the signature initiative of the Northland revitalization. With offices opening in July and classes starting in August, many hope this will give the area a boost.

“Advanced manufacturing and energy, they pay great wages, family sustaining wages. They have outstanding, high-tech careers,” said CEO Stephen Tucker of the Northland Group, which oversees the Center. He hopes to train up to 400 students in the first year, with about half starting in August.

They’ll get training in fields such as welding, energy utility technology, and machine tool technology.

And that should help East Side residents find jobs. While the Buffalo-Niagara region’s unemployment rate was 5.1 percent as of this April, it’s higher in the East Side’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

The training center and other parts of the Northland development are on land once used by the Houdaille plant, which made machine parts. But not everything from the plant was torn down.

“There is a small, 15,000-square-foot building left over from that demolition on the south end of the site that we’re in the middle of renovations for,” said David Stebbins, Executive Vice President of Buffalo Urban Development Corp. “We’re using a lot of local and minority contractors for that and we expect to turn that into a small business center.” 

Part of Northland Avenue also is getting a makeover. Buffalo Urban Development President Peter Cammarata says it’s a much needed upgrade.

“Obviously infrastructure needed to be improved also because this will be a very busy stretch: Northland Avenue, from Fillmore to Grider,” he said. “And it was important for us to reconstruct that infrastructure, and it’s important to the neighborhood to have that reconstructed also.”

And what about neighborhood residents? Pastor William Gillison of Mount Olive Baptist Church, less than a half-mile from the construction site, says the redevelopment will have a big impact.

“We think that it’s not only a tremendous benefit, of course, to the East Side community but actually to the City of Buffalo, County of Erie, and State of New York. Because of the tremendous work that is planned for that particular area,” he said. 

Some on the East Side have criticized city officials for focusing on development downtown. Gillison says the Northland development is an example of the tens of millions of dollars being invested on the East Side. Other projects nearby will bring housing, stores and services to the community.

“Things are happening everywhere and of course the training center, as we see it, now represents things happening on the east side of Buffalo,” he said. “So we are excited about what is happening over there.” 

Stebbins and Gillison stressed the importance of community outreach. Many meetings between the developers and community leaders were held at Mount Olive.

“We talked to the neighborhood first,” Stebbins said. “We wanted to hear what they were interested in and their concerns. So it’s not us alone doing this. This is a community-based effort, and they’re as much a part of the development as we are.”

Now, a big part of the outreach is to help applicants understand the importance of the career opportunities.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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