Jokes aside, selling WNY getting easier
By MARK WEBSTER
"You know all four seasons in Buffalo: Almost fall, winter, still winter and road construction." — Comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
There are a million of them, it seems. One need not be a native Western New Yorker to have heard comedians, newscasters, meteorologists and others rattle off their favorite Buffalo jokes at community expense - and many of them considerably more harsh than that Foxworthy quip.
While the general trend might have eased over the years - Tom Brady's 2012 Buffalo hotel diss notwithstanding - changing perceptions about "La Vida Buffalo" is no joking matter to those charged with convincing outsiders that this area should be on their relocation short list.
That would include Gwen Arcara, president of national executive search firm Executive Dimensions. It's based in Williamsville but does national health-care recruiting. While only 5 percent of its business involves attracting executives to local firms - such as Kaleida, Catholic Health, ECMC and Roswell Park Cancer Institute - she says selling Buffalo to an outsider is surprisingly easy. The trick is getting them to come and sample it for themselves.
"If you think about Buffalo, it really offers something for everyone," she said. "It really does, because of the great cultural organizations that we have, and offbeat festivals. There's a lot to do that's free and great. And of course there's the Bills and the Sabres. Whatever appeals to people, Buffalo seems to provide."
She concedes that it's a tougher sell for younger executives looking for the perceived excitement of a major city, or for those with a predisposition to wintry weather, citing the example of recruits who won't even consider any city north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But for those looking to plant roots, the region offers fertile soil, as Executive Dimensions recruit Brian Springer will attest.
Springer, who joined Roswell Park a year ago as executive vice president, spent most of his previous professional life in the warm, trendy clime of North Carolina and, most recently, St. Louis. Roswell's growing national reputation initially sold him on the idea of coming here, he said, but the community sealed the deal by providing the things he and his fiancé were looking for in a place that truly felt like home. They're now married a matter of weeks and living in the Southtowns.
"People are humble when they're from Buffalo, it seems. They don't really brag about the things that are here. But culturally, it's fantastic. The weather is great; it's gorgeous. Niagara Falls is amazing. People are incredibly friendly. Our families come here and they're just amazed at how friendly everyone is," Springer said.
Others who came here strictly for a job experienced similarly sweet surprises.
Thomas Kucharski, president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, points to the experience of Toronto-based Electro Sonic, which, in 2008, sought to establish its first U.S.-based warehouse/distribution center. The company opened a 65,000-square-foot center in Tonawanda in 2010.
"They came over here," Kucharski recalled, "and rather than bringing in Canadians to do this facility over here in our community, they hired locally and they were just absolutely shocked at how dedicated all of the workers were and ramped it up during Thanksgiving and Christmas to get it ready to go in January. They marveled at the work ethic and how happy everybody was to have a job."
He cited similar examples of happy out-of-area transplants from Geico and Yahoo! who found the life to their liking. In the case of Yahoo! locating here, he said Buffalo went head-to-head with the vaunted West Coast lifestyle and won.
"Those folks from Seattle and Southern California came here and as they started to visit more than a couple of times, they said, 'This is really cool here. There's a lot of culture. You have front porches. I can afford a house. People say hello.' And a number of them did move from California to Buffalo to get the facility started."
At the helm of BNE since 2000, Kucharski travels extensively and said word is getting out that there's a whole other Buffalo beyond the snow and football jokes - a city that has tangible, competitive quality-of-life assets to offer.
Arcara agreed, saying, "If they come, they're shocked. And they really, really like it."
And Roswell's Springer, who said he's still appreciating the simple scenic thrill of commuting along the lakeshore, remains surprised by the amount of attractive options his new town has to offer.
"We've had a great time learning our new home and going to cultural things," he said. "We've been very excited, but I don't know that we would've had a clue how much we'd enjoy it here."
Mark Webster is a freelance journalist and photographer from Lakeview.