Erie County does not have a housing shortage, we have enough houses, apartments and condominiums for everyone who wants one, in fact, tearing down abandoned and rundown housing is a focus of the new city plan. Every now and then, hotel rooms seem to fill up if there’s a special event, but you can usually find one if you need to. We also have plenty of retail space available, empty stores are everywhere. So why do all of our planners keep coming up with architectural concepts filled with new hotels, apartments, condos and retail space? Are they completely out of ideas?
Let’s turn Erie County into a hub for small manufacturing startups. Let’s create more opportunities for young people who want to live and work in Erie County applying their knowledge and skills in the kinds of fast moving, high tech, high growth businesses taking off elsewhere. Let’s focus our efforts on something besides tourism. How about making things again?
Business and jobs first, then housing
Construction and revitalization take place to meet the demand. People don’t move in to an area because there’s a nice new apartment complex in town, they come to work at a local business or to start one and afterwards need better housing than what’s available. Government planners always get that backwards, they think business magically comes to town when new apartments and condos go up, but there’s no “build it and they will come” connection. We’ve seen buildings converted to condos sitting for years waiting in vain for those high income hipsters who will frequent the coffee shops and retail stores below. It doesn’t work.
We used to make things here, remember?
For a city and county that used to pride itself on manufacturing and the jobs it created, we seem to have given up on it. The big companies and their jobs have been leaving for many years, but that’s no reason to quit, there are new opportunities to restart on a smaller scale and grow from there.
Erie has colleges offering degrees in many fields, but where do those graduates apply their new knowledge without moving away? The array of employers isn’t growing, but, with a limited number of larger employers and a now steadily shrinking GE, for the high growth, high demand skills in science, technology, engineering and math, the student with a STEM degree really has to look elsewhere and, once gone, he’s unlikely to return. However, a small manufacturing startup community might keep that graduate here. It might even attract a graduate from somewhere else.
Erie County manufacturing can rebuild Erie County
Manufacturing creates jobs while serving the whole world. It can literally locate anywhere because it doesn’t depend on a local customer base. So why not here? It doesn’t depend on a thriving local economy to operate, it can create a thriving local economy as it grows. Manufacturing is different than all of the other businesses we have and we abandon it in favor of service jobs at our peril.
It’s impossible for one person to start a college, hospital, insurance company or financial institution without major backing, but one person, working in a garage, can start a manufacturing company. Manufacturing is almost unique, it creates the products, it creates jobs for the people making those products and it creates more jobs in supporting businesses than any other type of business. Nothing builds a strong local economy like manufacturing.
Can Erie County become a manufacturing startup hub? Yes, but it’s not a foregone conclusion, there’s nothing saying it must happen. We can go on as we are now and nothing will change. We have to decide to make it happen and then take the necessary steps. It is entirely in our control. We don’t have to convince some other company to move here. We need no committees of bureaucrats meeting for months or years discussing whether we should, as if they would have any idea. We can start immediately, right now. We just have to say, this is what we’re doing and then do it.
Isn’t it time for Erie County to return to its roots as a place where things, … physical things, are made, just like we used to? I think so. How about you?