Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, the chairperson of Young Black Democrats of WNY and the city’s high profile social justice activist is expected to unveil an “economic turnaround plan” for the minority community on Wednesday. She will be presenting the plan with Matthew Ricchiazzi, the controversial publisher.
The two will be calling for resource parity with 43 North and z80 Labs, wealth incubator programs founded by Buffalo businessman Jordan Levy and funded by the state’s StartupNY initiative.
“We want what Jordan Levy got,” says Mrs. Martin-Bordeaux. “In fact, I think Jordan will be appreciative of us replicating his strategy on the Eastside.”
While a tech-specific start up incubator is certainly an industry development strategy that should be pursued, critics say, it’s not an industry that is culturally congruent with skill sets in the Black community.
“There are a lot of barriers to entry, technical skills like computer programing for instance,” explains Martin-Bordeaux. “We need to be cultivating industries in which minorities can be relevant in the entrepreneurial space today.”
The tech industry is noted for it’s lack of diversity nationally.
Industries like entertainment, music, film, content production, and new media have fewer barriers to entry; are more conducive to on-the-job training; capitalize on creative talents and other skills sets; and see the hip-hop culture as an asset rather than a weakness, she explains.
Mrs. Martin-Bordeaux envisions a minority business development incubator at the Northland Corridor that is themed around the creative industries, much like 43 North and z80 Labs are structured around scaling up tech start ups.
Her goal is to turn Buffalo into Atlanta — a wealthy center of Black culture, ownership, and commerce.
“We need to create the enabling environment that allows talented, creative people to build teams around their products, services, content, and brands, and then link them with contacts and capital that they need to bring their ideas to market,” she says.
“For too long the Black community has been organizing through non-profits which, by design, prevent us from accumulating wealth,” she observes. “We need to teach our young people to organize through LLCs with the explicit objective of cultivating Black wealth.”
She notes that the difference between 43 North and the Northland Avenue Workforce Training Center is obvious: one teaches you how to cultivate personal wealth, and the other prepares you to work for someone else.
The minority community has long complained of being excluded from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion investment initiative, premised on the objective of cultivating new industries in the city. Instead, much of those resources have been funneled to politically connected entities.
Last week, Governor Cuomo announced $89.5 million in economic development grants for Western New York. Only $76,000 was allocated to projects on the East Side. That grant was given to the Broadway Market to fund a new patronage position.
43 North and z80 Labs, on the other hand, enjoy ongoing funding by the state. They have a large business development staff, event facilitators, and resident entrepreneurs who coach and mentor emerging small businesses; frequently hosting well programed and well catered public events that bring in industry experts from out of town.
In addition to the millions of dollars to construct their incubator facility and fund their ongoing operations budget — which some say is designed specifically to subsidize Levy’s venture capital practice — the programs also benefit from the largess of the New York Power Authority.
Each year, the NYPA gives away $5 million to early stage start ups and asks entrepreneurs from around the world to compete for the capital. They ask the winners to locate in Buffalo for one year. Sometimes, those entities will locate only one or two employees from out of town in the incubator for twelve months and then leave town.
Some critics say that Levy is suspiciously close to those starts ups who receive cash awards.
“Why are we giving money away to people who don’t want to be here,” she wonders. “We should be investing in businesses owned and operated by folks who have lived here for decades and will be here all their lives.”
The activists insist that at least $5 million a year from the power authority should be going directly into minority business ventures, with the purpose of spawning a major regional export industry — like the entertainment media industry — strongly rooted in the Black community.
Political observers say that small business development isn’t the Governor’s style. He is more interested in advancing legislative and spending priorities for large established businesses with the resources to make substantial campaign contributions.
If the Governor insists on working an angle to solicit campaign contributions, Ricchiazzi figures, he could always approach potential anchor firms, as he has already done for projects on the medical campus.
“The governor has gone out of his way to land IBM and Solar City, so why not go out of your way to land a Netflix or Comcast production studio on the Eastside with the same $1 p/year arrangement for space and equipment,” Ricchiazzi suggests.
“National distribution platforms see value in original content production, which can be sourced to a Buffalo location as easily as any other. Cultivating an industry here would allow suppliers, talent, and production contractors to emerge around corporate anchors.”
We Are Women Warriors and Young Black Democrats of WNY will be hosting the public presentation at the Frank E. Merriweather Library, set to begin at 5:30. The two hour presentation is expected to discuss current policies relating to economic development, job creation, wealth inequality, housing, and quality of life issues confronting the East Side of Buffalo.