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Compiling regional economic assessment a labor of love for UBRI

Aerial view of buffalo niagara medical campus with downtown in the background

UB's Regional Institute spent nearly a year preparing Buffalo Niagara Labor Market Assessment 2017, an exhaustive collection of four reports detailing everything from an overview of the region’s economy, labor force and wages, to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Photo: Douglas Levere

By DAVID J. HILL

Published February 20, 2017

“We love it when we can see our data in action and right now, our team gets to see the fruits of our labor in what’s happening in our region every day.”
Laura Quebral, director
UB Regional Institute

First, the good news: The Buffalo Niagara region’s economy is growing at a rate not seen in decades.

The not-so-good news? The labor market is aging, particularly in fields like manufacturing and skilled labor, and a significant percentage of workers are underemployed.

Those were among the key findings of the Buffalo Niagara Labor Market Assessment 2017, an exhaustive collection of four reports detailing everything from an overview of the region’s economy, labor force and wages, to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

The report was commissioned by Invest Buffalo Niagara, formerly the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. The UB Regional Institute, part of the School of Architecture and Planning, spent nine months compiling all the research and data contained within the reports. It was a massive undertaking, but nothing the UBRI team hasn’t managed previously.

“We love it when we can see our data in action and right now, our team gets to see the fruits of our labor in what’s happening in our region every day,” says UBRI Director Laura Quebral.

The report has been generating buzz across Western New York since a public launch event held Feb. 2 at Templeton Landing. “It’s incredibly exciting and rewarding to be part of research that the region is hungry for and to know that our work will help Invest Buffalo Niagara and others attract businesses to the region, cultivate the talent employers are looking for and advance the alignment between workforce and economic development,” says Sharon Ana Entress, UBRI’s associate director of research.

Entress and her team began working on the project in April 2016. They collaborated with Make Communities, The John R. Oishei Foundation’s Mobile Safety Net Team and the Pathfinders, which supported research for various components of the study.

In addition to UBRI’s project team, the research engaged hundreds of people across Buffalo Niagara who served on the project advisory group, participated in a labor-management roundtable, completed surveys and took part in interviews.

“One of the great things about this project was how many voices and perspectives were brought to the table,” says Quebral. “Working with Invest Buffalo Niagara, we were able to reach people across the spectrum of the workforce environment. It is such an important issue in the region that it was essential to have a comprehensive approach.”

UBRI took a mixed-methods approach to the study, using both quantitative and qualitative research methods, and incorporating primary and secondary data sources. For example, the study included an analysis of industry and workforce data from such sources as the New York State Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census American Community Survey, National Center for Education Statistics and the New York State Education Department.

In addition to these sources, a survey of employers generated information from hundreds of companies across the eight counties on employee benefits, hard-to-fill jobs, hard-to-find skills, unionization, hiring trends and other topics.

A survey of workforce trainers gathered information on trainer programs, capacity and future opportunities. Survey data was supplemented with interviews with trainers, which helped flesh out and better understand the challenges and opportunities they face. Interviews also were conducted with labor-management leaders to identify and understand how these partnerships contribute to economic competitiveness.

“The study contains much good news for our community. Jobs, firms, population, production and exports are up from 2010, when the last study was released,” Entress says.

“But our growing economy faces some challenges in keeping up with employer demand for workers,” she adds. “Many employers we surveyed reported difficulties in filling jobs or finding the skills their business seeks in workers. Talent shortages and skills gaps will only be exacerbated by a large number of potential retirements on the horizon if nothing is done. That said, a great opportunity lies in the region’s vast workforce-development landscape, which includes the University at Buffalo, and how this landscape can expand its reach and impact to support our growing economy.”

A few of the key findings from the study’s four reports:

  • Buffalo Niagara’s nearly 38,000 companies generate more than 672,000 jobs.
  • Since 2009, the regional population has grown by 5,500, while the economy has added nearly 10,000 new jobs and more than 1,200 new firms.
  • Over the next decade, approximately one-fifth of all jobs — or more than 137,000 — across the region may be impacted by retiring workers.
  • The region’s average salary of $43,580 is 6 percent less than the national average.
  • 18 percent of the region’s workers are underemployed.
  • Half of employers anticipate hiring levels to increase over the next five years.
  • At an average wage of $19,330, gaming dealer was the lowest-paying job, while anesthesiologist was the highest, at $215,180.
  • 77 percent of the region’s public-sector jobs are unionized, compared to 16 percent of private-sector jobs.