In a new rank­ing of sites, Rochester is No. 4 sep­a­rately, as Buf­falo is listed at No. 21

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

team­ing up with its Rochester coun­ter­part, Greater Rochester En­ter­prise. “This is very much a one-re­gion story.”

By link­ing ef­forts, the com­bined Buf­falo Rochester metro cor­ri­dor “can of­fer a pro­posal that is both com­pelling and ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive,” the two groups said in a state­ment.

But it prob­a­bly still won’t be any­where near com­pelling enough, es­pe­cially in a com­pe­ti­tion that pits Western New York against the trendier and eco­nom­i­cally stronger places such as New York City, Chicago, At­lanta and Minneapolis.

“Per­haps this is the best op­por­tu­nity for them to com­pete,” said Greg Biryla, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Un­shackle Up­state, a busi­ness group. “If you look at the ar­eas that are bid­ding, they’re some of the big­gest me­trop­o­lises in the coun­try.”

E.J. McMa­hon, re­search di­rec­tor at Em­pire Cen­ter for Pub­lic Pol­icy, an Albany think tank, ques­tioned what join­ing forces would do for the two cities.

“I just find it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that Ama­zon is go­ing to sec­ond-tier metro ar­eas, whether they’re col­lab­o­rat­ing or not,” McMa­hon said. “I don’t think any of the up­state met­ros are in a league to com­pete for this.”

It is a rare in­stance of Buf­falo and Rochester col­lab­o­rat­ing on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, pair­ing two cities sep­a­rated by just 60 miles, al­though the psy­cho­log­i­cal gulf be­tween them of­ten seems far wider.

Buf­falo views it­self as a ma­jor league city, with the Bills and the Sabres, that has al­ways been big­ger than Rochester, and still is, al­though barely.

Rochester sees it­self as a white-col­lar hub for in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy that al­ways has had more of a mod­ern-day bent than blue-col­lar Buf­falo.

Ama­zon last month spelled out a set of cri­te­ria for cities in­ter­ested in bid­ding for its new sec­ond head­quar­ters, or HQ2, and with it the prom­ise of 50,000 jobs within 10 to 15 years that pay an av­er­age of more than $100,000 apiece.

In re­turn, Ama­zon wants a met­ro­pol­i­tan area with at least 1 mil­lion peo­ple. It wants to be in an area with a “sta­ble” econ­omy that is “busi­ness-friendly,” and it wants an ini­tial build­ing of 500,000 square feet on a lo­ca­tion that could even­tu­ally ac­com­mo­date 8 mil­lion square feet of of­fice space. It also wants ac­cess to ma­jor high­ways, mass tran­sit on the site, and to be near an in­ter­na­tional air­port with non­stop flights to cities such as Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and New York.

It also wants ac­cess to a highly ed­u­cated la­bor pool and to be lo­cated near a strong uni­ver­sity sys­tem – some­thing that a joint pro­posal would bet­ter meet by com­bin­ing univer­si­ties such as the Uni­ver­sity at Buf­falo with re­sources from the Uni­ver­sity of Rochester and Rochester In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and roughly 60 other col­leges and univer­si­ties.

And it wants to be in a place where it can at­tract top tech­ni­cal tal­ent and of­fers a wide ar­ray of re­cre­ational and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties that con­trib­ute to a strong qual­ity of life.

Ama­zon’s an­nounce­ment that it was launch­ing a com­pe­ti­tion for its sec­ond head­quar­ters set off a flurry of ac­tiv­ity among ma­jor cities across the coun­try, each scur­ry­ing to come up with pack­ages that com­bine what al­most cer­tainly will be hun­dreds of mil­lions – and more likely, bil­lions – of dol­lars in in­cen­tives with other re­sources that each area can of­fer. The pro­pos­als are due next week.

Nei­ther Buf­falo nor Rochester in­di­vid­u­ally was widely con­sid­ered a strong con­tender. A rank­ing of po­ten­tial Ama­zon sites by a pri­vate con­sult­ing firm, An­der­son Eco­nomic Group, listed 35 metro ar­eas that met all of Ama­zon’s cri­te­ria, and nei­ther Western New York city made the cut.

But even that is sub­jec­tive. A rank­ing of 65 po­ten­tial sites re­leased Thurs­day by Moody’s An­a­lyt­ics ranked Rochester as the No. 4 con­tender, be­hind Austin, Texas; At­lanta; and Philadel­phia. Rochester’s lower costs, at­trac­tive qual­ity of life and good trans­porta­tion sys­tem off­set low marks for its busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. Buf­falo ranked 21st in the “data-driven” Moody’s study, but it also was sin­gled out for hav­ing the low­est cost of liv­ing, mostly be­cause of our low hous­ing prices.

“Still, Rochester is right­fully an ex­treme long shot,” said Adam Kamins, a Moody’s an­a­lyst. “The fore­most chal­lenge in­volves find­ing up to 50,000 work­ers to fill the jobs cre­ated by Ama­zon.”

De­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials from Buf­falo and Rochester be­gan talk­ing about work­ing to­gether within days of Ama­zon’s an­nounce­ment, Kucharski said.

In many ways, it makes sense. Western New York is more af­ford­able than many other high-fly­ing parts of the coun­try. Com­mutes are easy and rel­a­tively short. Buf­falo is a gate­way to Canada. Rochester has a solid pres­ence in tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion.

“It in­creases the op­por­tu­nity, and cer­tainly makes for a more com­pet­i­tive ap­pli­ca­tion,” said Ryan M. Silva, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New York State Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil in Albany.

But the two-city bid also has some dis­ad­van­tages, most no­tably the 60-mile dis­tance be­tween the two cities. While Kucharski notes that the Los An­ge­les metro area cov­ers more ter­ri­tory, it also isn’t split be­tween two city cen­ters, with 30-odd miles of farmland in be­tween.

The dis­tance, how­ever, can be over­come by the ease of get­ting around in Western New York, Kucharski said. “I can get to Rochester faster than I could get out of my neigh­bor­hood when I was liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” he said.

The two-city ap­proach also doesn’t mean that the joint bid will fo­cus on sites in the mid­dle, in some­place like Batavia.

Matt Hurl­butt, in­terim pres­i­dent and CEO of Greater Rochester En­ter­prise, said, “The fo­cus is re­ally on the ur­ban cen­ters of Buf­falo and Rochester.”

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