Northland training center promising the manufacturing workforce of the future

Nov 16, 2018

Go back about two years, Northland Avenue on Buffalo's East Side was a mess, flanked by a series of decrepit and empty former industrial buildings. Thursday night, officials of Northland Workforce Training Center were showing off their brand new facilities with 100 people in training.

When you enter the facility, there is a giant industrial crane overhead. It was once used by Niagara Machine to build the industrial machine tools essential to manufacturing, locally and nationally.

Outreach Specialist Lonnell Williams said that lobby shows history.
 

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"We wanted to keep as much of the industrial integrity of this building in place, so it's a reminder of our legacy and that 30-ton crane was a part of Niagara Tool and Die," Williams said, "and so what you are seeing up there is Buffalo, our renaissance, and we're getting back to what we should never have stopped doing. When we talk about this mural right here, that's actually a map of the City of Buffalo and many of the components were found inside this building."

Williams recruits for the training classes, with the first 100 at work and another 100 coming with the new year.

Below the lobby are rooms filled with the latest industrial equipment for training. Another renovation is underway for advanced manufacturing training.

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Elijah was there to find out what training was available to help him meet his goal to eventually own his own business.

"I came here to Northland just to try to see how I can get involved," he said, "because I'm interested in CNC machining and I wanted to see how it goes and that's why I'm here and this has been a good day so far."

Jawan Robinson now works in retail, but has some experience in construction. He was looking for a better job to make life better for his family.

"I was hopefully just thinking if I could just to get back into a career in construction," Robinson said. "If not, I love to learn new things and new opportunities. Everything and every day is a new lesson learned. Bringing a new lesson and new things to be teached every year."
 

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Beverly Crowell was there because she lives just up the street and helped start the new Northland Beltline Taxpayers Association. Crowell likes the improvements along the street, its pavement, sidewalks and the new training complex.

"It's fantastic," she said. "We actually hold our association's meetings in this room every second Tuesday 6 to 8 o'clock and we were here this week, this Tuesday, and we are just thrilled at the change that this rehabilitated space is making in the neighborhood."

Eventually, those changes will represent the fruits of spending $120 million.

Fruit is important because the new Gigi's restaurant will be the center canteen and owner Darryl Harvin is promising both soul food and healthy food when it opens in about two weeks. He is also hiring.

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Mayor Brown said there are an estimated 20,000 jobs coming in the future and the Northland facility will train them. That includes moving the Buffalo Manufacturing Center inside in the middle of next year.

"We need the Buffalo Public Schools to be a great feeder," Brown said. "We're seeing significant improvement in the Buffalo Public Schools. The superintendent's plan for the future of our children and our schools, the New Education Bargain, is working well."

There are a lot of young people living near the training center who will be taking advantage of the facility as some of the money is going into improving the neighborhood, with more on the way.

New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy said he tells people there are well-paid skilled jobs out there with beckoning employers, like CUBRC on Genesee Street at the airport.
 

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"Calspan and the University at Buffalo Research Center," Kennedy said, "and that is an internationally recognized corporation that does top-secret and classified work for the United States Government and work for corporations across the globe. And the number one job that they're looking for right now are skilled machinists. They have 20 jobs that are open for skilled machinists."

Kennedy said he hears complaints from companies all of the time that they cannot find enough skilled workers.

Merz Metal and Machine CEO David Nieman was there because he's always looking for workers.

"I'm hoping. I'm hoping," Nieman said. "We're a union shop, so we go through the trades unions for our labor, but I believe those trade unions are also looking here to get members, new employees."

Nieman said his average worker is around 45 years old and will retire.