Responding to the Renaissance in Manufacturing: Opportunities and Challenges to Diversify the Workforce in Buffalo

Buffalo, New York is one of many cities in this country impacted by deindustrialization, with decades of manufacturing layoffs leaving behind scars for those who still reside there. Yet, as with many former manufacturing hubs, Buffalo is seeing a revival of the industry. Companies in the city and across the region are struggling to hire entry level production workers, as well as facing a shortage of skilled production workers as journey level workers retire. According to a manufacturing consulting firm, employers will need to fill 17,000 production jobs by 2020 due to attritions and retirements in the region’s manufacturing sector. Though manufacturing employment in Western New York has declined from 80,000 in 2000, the last ten years has seen employment levels stabilize at roughly 51,000 workers. For the Black community in Buffalo, which has suffered from generations of poverty and discrimination, the current drive to fill openings offers a chance to access skilled, family sustaining careers in advanced manufacturing. Opportunities are also open for women, people with disabilities, the formerly incarcerated and other underrepresented populations in the industry.

This report examines how organizations in Buffalo are taking advantage of the employment opportunities in manufacturing to diversify the workforce. Through a series of focus groups and one-on-one interviews conducted in August and September 2018, 23 representatives from business, government and community organizations weighed in on three questions: What are the barriers preventing targeted populations from accessing careers in advanced manufacturing? What are efforts underway to address those barriers? What else needs to be done to achieve diversity in the manufacturing sector? What follows is a summary of those discussions.