It has been a sad economic tale for Western New York since the year 1950. It was the high-water mark for its major city concluding 147 years of continuous population growth. Buffalo, NY had reached 580,132 and was the 15th largest city in the United States. Flour Milling, Manufacturing, Marine Shipping, Rail Transportation, Iron and Steel Making, and Baking were kings.
Then the wheels started to fall off the wagon. The areas critical geographic location at the end. The long Great Lakes trade route and freight transfer to the Erie Canal, officially known as the New York State Barge Canal, at Buffalo became irrelevant. The stars were aligned against the area and the population precipitously dropped.
1960 (532,759); 1970 (462,786); 1980 (357,870); 1990 (328,183); 2000 (292,648); 2010 (261,310) Source: U.S. Census
Post World War II events beyond the control of the locals drove the decline. In 1959 the U.S.A./Canada St. Lawrence Seaway Project opened. It brought the death of the Port of Buffalo and the Erie Canal as an import transportation route. Ships could now sail directly from anywhere in the world to any city on the Great Lakes bypassing the city. The invention of “air conditioning” made it possible for heavy population settlement in areas of the country that formerly we unsuitable for large population and industrial growth. Hot hot and humid or Very Hot and Desperately Dry were trumped by air conditioned offices, factories, homes, stores, etc. The population transfer to the South and Southwest was on.
During the 1950s, then President Dwight Eisenhower, began Americas greatest national building project construction of the United States Interstate Highway System. Another means to bypass the area was born. Couple with with new railroad tariffs that made shipment of Midwestern Grains directly to the big East Coast American cites, Western New York had died as a premier transportation hub. This this with the end of European reconstruction using American manufactured goods, the end of America’s skyscraper (requiring steel) pre-eminence, and the r return of European, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese competition after their return to normalcy after their WWII rebuild, our economic lives had become unrecognizable. People had to leave for opportunities elsewhere.
But, at the end of this tale of woe is begins the story of a rising Phoenix, as opposed to a city of the same name that was labeled as such at birth, Buffalo and Western New York is on the rise. It was recently identified by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce that for the first time Buffalo-Niagara Falls was the 20th most popular tourist destination for international travelers with 335,000 overseas visitors. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. announced that over 500,000 visitors took in the sights and sounds of the rapidly developing Canalside. The local publication Buffalo Business First reported that 3.1 million Canadians came to the area as shoppers, sports fans, day and over-night visitors.
There is a massive University of Buffalo – Kaleida Health – Roswell Park Cancer Institute medical corridor under construction, two hotels have opened, two more hotels are planned, urban housing is on the upswing, a Pierce-Arrow automotive museum is open, a massive Western New York Heritage Discovery Center is in the works, the Buffalo Sabres NHL franchise plan a major development. The worst is almost over, the corner is being approached.
My final proof. Well, Forbes.com published an interactive map showing population migration across the United States. And will it points out that the area is still losing people it is heartening to see that the inflow is approaching the outflow and that inflow includes new residents coming from California, Arizona, Florida, Metro New York City and Philadelphia.
So keep the faith. Better days are on the way. And remember, lack of size does not equal lack of quality culture – heritage – adventure – arts – life and fun opportunity for both resident and tourist.