The Buffalo Charlotte Connection: To Investors, Buffalo Can Be a Frustrating Experience
Correction appended Wyatt Englehart helps oversee a new high-tech factory near Monroe. TurboMeca is a French company that makes parts for helicopter engines. As he looks on, a robotic arm toils. "This is a process that is grinding the root of the air foil, the root of the turbine blade itself," Englehart says. "It grinds what's called a fir tree and that fir tree enables you to slide the blade into the disc." Over the next few years, Englehart will come to manage about 180 employees. Some will make $35 an hour. His company is in Union County because, Englehart says, officials there promised they'd expedite the building process. And Englehart says they delivered. "The questions that we had, the response was great. Even the permitting process, compared to other places, was expeditious. If there was a problem they called us and let us know. It didn't just sit in City Hall somewhere. It was great." Contrast that with Mike Hannanel's experience. Hannanel is a Los Angeles investor. Three years ago he sold his LA properties and invested in Buffalo apartment buildings. In the beginning, he found it very difficult to work with the city. At times, he thought he'd made a mistake. "I'd have one inspector telling me one thing, another inspector telling me something else. I'd be like this guy told me to do this and now you're telling me to do that. Who do I talk to? Who can organize this? Who's the chief guy who can make a decision when I have five inspectors telling me to do five different things?" It's a story that Robert Silverman has heard before. Silverman teaches urban and regional planning at the University of Buffalo. "In Buffalo, it just seems there are extra layers of bureaucracy and also of political approval and support that need to be garnered in order to have business development take place," he says. Silverman says business projects often take much longer to complete in Buffalo than in other parts of the country. And those layers of government that often hold up economic development have led to an extensive tax system. Buffalo businesses and residents pay what amount to some of the highest taxes in the nation, to a number of different authorities. "The adage here is well, this is a place to be if you have a job. So we're trying to change that so that everybody has a job," says Tom Kucharski, who works to create jobs in Buffalo as president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. He acknowledges Buffalo's reputation as a tough place to do business though he thinks that's slowly changing. But he understands why places like Charlotte are able to attract more business. "Time is money," Kucharski says. "So if you don't have to go through a laborious process and you don't have former sites that need to be remediated and converted and that type of thing, and you have a regional strategy that everybody seems to adhere to, you can have a great deal of success. And I think Charlotte is a great example of that." Kucharski's friend, Ronnie Bryant, recruits new businesses to Charlotte as head of the Charlotte Regional Partnership. Bryant says his job is made easier by local cities and counties who want to be as accommodating to businesses as reasonably possibly. When courting new business, Bryant makes that clear in his sales pitch. "You won't have the kind of contentiousness that you might have experienced in other parts of the country," Bryant says. "But of you come to Charlotte, you have a public sector that wants to support you, a public sector that wants you to be successful and a public sector that will do whatever's necessary to make sure that you are successful in our region." That philosophy has served Charlotte well. Figures compiled by Bizjournals.com show between 2003 and 2008, job growth in Charlotte was 26 times what it was in Buffalo. Correction Employees of TurboMeca in Union County will make up to $35,000 a year, not $35 an hour. Note: Join us for the end of our series tomorrow when we report on what Buffalo natives think of Charlotte once they've moved here, and why some have decided to move back home.