The New Face of Buffalo’s Economic Resurgence

The New Face of Buffalo’s Economic Resurgence

If you want to see how refugees, Puerto Rican migrants and Latinos are changing Buffalo, N.Y., the West Side Bazaar, Buffalo’s North, Niagara districts and Buffalos Medical Campus is a good place to start. It’s an incubator for immigrant and migrant owned businesses. And it’s the only place in town where you can eat Ethiopian sponge bread, Burmese noodles, Pasitillos, and Peruvian chicken at the same table. In the medical campus, where new innovative start up business are growing many are being fueled by the brain power of immigrants and migrants who have helped grow the Western New York economy.

“We are like family here — families from different countries,” says Nadeen Yousef, who moved to Buffalo from Iraq last year. Yousef now has a booth at the bazaar, where she sells handmade macrame wall hangings and art.

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Dr. Francisco Hernandez

At Roswell Park Cancer institute Dr. Francisco Hernandez IIizaliturri a Mexican immigrant is developing and treating Cancer patients with the latest medicines. At the University at Buffalo the President Satish K. Tripathi The first international-born president in UB’s history, is leading the way in start up New York Business and a partner in the Buffalo Billions. On Buffalo’s Westside and Eastside Puerto Rican American Dr. Raul Vazquez is developing systems that improves healthcare outcomes, while reducing healthcare cost and at the same time creating hundreds of job.

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Left to right Mayor Brown, Toni Vasquez, Dr. Raul Vasquez and Senator Kennedy

Mexican American Banker and former Vice President for Bank of America Fernando Martinez is helping these new immigrants and migrants with accessing capital and providing financial literacy which has resulted in millions being invested in the Ellicott, Niagara, North District and other areas of Western New York. In Rochester, Deputy Mayor R. Carlos Carballada a graduate of Canisius College and has previously served as a director at M&T Bank, CEO/President of First National Bank and Central Trust Company has been at the forefront of growing the Rochester economy. While in Dunkirk, N.Y. the first Puerto Rican American mayor was elected.

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Pablo Vega

Pablo Vega, 29, came to Buffalo from Brooklyn with his Ecuadorian mother and Puerto Rican father when he was 3. His father worked for a local dry cleaning company and, when the owner passed away in 2003, he took over.

Vega began working at his family’s dry cleaning business, Vega’s Exclusive Dry Cleaners, as a teenager and had planned to complete a computer engineering degree. When his own father passed away, Vega found himself back in the family business.

“I was the only person who had the license to operate the machine so it was kind of up to me to decide if I wanted to take over,” said Vega, who graduated from McKinley High School and studied computer technology at Erie Community College.

Now, with his mom running the dry cleaning stores and his younger brothers helping out, he’s embarking on his next business adventure – as a 7-Eleven convenience store franchisee.

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Fernando G. Martinez- Former Vice President Bank of America and now CEO Panorama News Media

For shrinking cities, this kind of bump in population makes a real difference. A 2012 study focused on Buffalo, Rochester and Dunkirk found that refugees and migrants from Puerto Rico, Myanmar Bhutan, Burma, Somalia and Iraq created new jobs and boosted the Western New Yorks economy by $180 million. Refugee- and migrant owned businesses directly contributed $87.6 million in economic activity to the cities in just a year.

Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that cities need two things to stay strong: economic activity and population. Refugees provide both. Many of America’s large and mid-sized cities have taken notice. Eighteen cities in the Rust Belt alone have established programs to attract, integrate, and empower refugees.

There’s been a vigorous debate in this country about refugee resettlement, much of it focused on whether Syrian refugees pose a security threat. There’s been less talk about what happens when refugees put down roots in their new country, in places like Buffalo’s west side.

“The presence of foreign-born residents of the city of Buffalo has increased by 95 percent” since 2006, says Mayor Byron Brown. “And that community feels that Buffalo has been a welcoming place.”

Brown isn’t the only one who thinks refugees are one reason the city’s population has stopped falling for the first time in decades.

“They were pretty much the only group that was moving into the west side of Buffalo and taking over those vacant houses and vacant businesses,” says Denise Beehag, director of refugee and employment services at the International Institute of Buffalo, one of several resettlement agencies in the city. She credits refugees with “changing the overall vibe of the area and making it a more desirable place to live.”

Now there’s a coffee shop, bookstore and bar side by side with immigrant-owned restaurants and grocery stores. The neighborhood’s population is growing, and property values are rising.

Roughly 21,000 refugees and migrants have resettled in the Buffalo area since 2003, with the biggest contingents coming from Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Somalia and Bhutan. That’s a huge influx in a medium-sized city. And it’s brought some major challenges, too — like meeting housing, educational and medical needs.

The refugee and migrant influx has put an additional strain on a school system that’s one of the most troubled in the state. “They come here, they get all this stuff; we get nothing,” says Mia James, a grandmother who has lived in Buffalo all her life. “We’re from here. We get nothing. Nothing. It’s hard for us to even take care of our children here.”

Brown insists that residents have access to all the same city benefits as refugees. And immigrants like Louise Sano say they’ve worked hard to get their businesses off the ground. Sano owns a small boutique called Global Villages, where she sells jewelry, gifts and clothing from Africa.

Sano was born in Rwanda and fled to Namibia in the 1990s. Four years ago, she moved to the Buffalo region, where her husband’s family had resettled.

“People are very friendly,” Sano says. “It’s very easy to integrate as a new American, a new person coming to the U.S. So I feel like I have created my own village.”

She’s changing the face of her new city in the process.

Across the Country immigrants and migrants are helping our economy grow and creating jobs in record numbers.

By: Edwin Martinez