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Millennials reversing Buffalo's brain drain reputation

Dan Almasi/WBFO News

Finding good jobs is a must for young professionals who aim to stay in the region. Just ten years ago, Buffalo was hardly an oasis for young professionals who were looking to make their mark. But things are changing, and many millennials are seeing Buffalo in a new light.

“I think the real story is the shift in mentality,” says local brewery owner Jeff Ware. “It was a woe-is-me, kind of forgotten Rust Belt city into a can-do attitude – we’re Buffalonians and we’re going to make this awesome.”

They’re calling it a comeback, a revival, even a renaissance. Ware likes to classify Buffalo’s economic comeback as a “resurgence.” A 35-year old Buffalo native, Ware moved back to Buffalo to open Resurgence Brewery after working as a salesman for Samuel Adams Brewing Company in New York City.

“I think that’s what’s catching on and why is everyone is excited about coming to Buffalo and talking about it, is a shift in attitude, and this is starting to happen, and we’re on the forefront of this and we can’t wait to see what’s going to be in five, 10 years,” Ware says. “I think that’s really the driving force behind it.”

A big part of this shift in mindset many millennials are coming to realize they don’t need to live in a big city to do big things.

Buffalo will never be New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago, and that’s okay. Buffalo has something else – and in many ways, something more – to offer. Ware came back for, among other things, the opportunity to start his own business.

“In New York City, it’s so hard to start your own company because you’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses every day and afford your rent and whatnot,” Ware says. “Here, you can spread your wings in a market that has unlimited opportunity, because there’s not a million people who are trying to do the same thing.”

Gwen Appelbaum is Director of the Career Resource Center at University at Buffalo’s School of Management. She is seeing more graduates interested in staying in the area post-graduation, many interested in entrepreneurship opportunities.

“Particularly in recent years, there’s so much going on in the community that there are students who want to stay and be a part of what’s going on in Buffalo.”

The numbers back up Appelbaum’s assertion. She says 50 to 60 percent of graduates in the UB School of Management are staying in the area. That includes local and non-local students.

“I am often meeting with students from outside the area – whether it’s downstate New York or it’s an international student who has come to Buffalo – and maybe they came here because of the proximity to New York, or for other reasons – that grow to love the community, love, obviously, the cost of living, but also love what’s going on in Buffalo right now and want to stay part of the community.”

Credit Dan Almasi/WBFO News
Members of Buffalo Niagara 360, a program that supports and promotes young area professionals.

Liz Callahan is the Workforce Development Manager at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. She says the number of young adults employed in Buffalo increased by over 11,000 between 2007 and 2014.

“There’s no way for a city to be successful without more young people moving into the area, buying houses, making jobs, moving their families here and committing to the community,” Callahan says.

Callahan also runs Buffalo Niagara 360, a program that supports and promotes young area professionals.

“Millennials are starting business, they’re spending money. They have really pushed what it means to be a member of this community, and pushed the 'Buffalove' and Buffalo pride, and committed themselves to improving the area.”

In a recent Buffalo Business First article, M&T Bank’s regional economist Gary Keith reported the number of 25 to 34-year olds in the City of Buffalo increased by 7,800 between 2007 and 2014 – a 22 percent increase. Over half of that growth came after 2012. 

Peggy Koch is Vice President at Key Resource Group in downtown Buffalo. She helps businesses connect with suitable employees.

“We’ve got an affordable living, good high-quality of life. If you’re taking on an entry-level position in New York City, you may not make this big difference,” Koch says. “You are able to become involved in the community, you’re able to see some recognition in a smaller organization.”

Across America, cities have steadily climbed out of the recent recession. This time, Buffalo and its young people are making sure their city won’t be left behind once again.

“I was in the industry in 2008, 2009 where it was the start of the recession and things were very bleak, and I can tell you it’s a very different area, a very different outlook than it was at that point,” Koch says.

Buffalo isn’t raising the proverbial Stanley Cup just yet. Like its hockey team, Buffalo is a city rebuilding. But a big part of getting there is keeping young talent in town, and the numbers seem to show that Buffalo is doing just that.