Buffalo and Western New York are hosting a delegation from Poland that has come to this region in search of strengthened ties and new business and cultural partnerships between their homeland and Polonia communities worldwide.
Their travel to Buffalo was delayed slightly, thanks to a flight cancellation in Newark which forced them to travel by road to Western New York overnight, but a group of special guests from Poland arrived Thursday to be welcomed by Erie County Legislators who presented them with a special proclamation.
These Polish visitors are in Buffalo for what's called the 60 Million Congress, an international gathering which has also met in other cities in the United States and abroad, to form new bonds between Poles and people of Polish heritage living elsewhere in the world.
"One of their main initiatives is they're looking to foster some economic development inside the Polish communities, and I think they're looking at multiple ways to engage in that," said Legislator Tim Meyers, whose district includes the Town of Cheektowaga, where on Sunday afternoon the Polish delegates will be guests of honor at the annual General Pulaski Parade.
The weekend's events include an all-day conference Friday, held at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. A previous visit by Polish officials, it was explained, resulted in a new partnership like the ones that will be sought during this congress.
"Last year, the Secretary of State (Anna Maria Anders) was here and met with Roswell Park and that turned into a memorandum of understanding with a university in Poland," said Joseph Mikolaj Rej, local organizer and president of the General Pulaski Association of Western New York. "Big things are to come. There's approximately 350,000 people of Polish heritage (in Western New York) and Poland is starting to realize that there's a lot of potential with this community and, hopefully, everybody here can help open those doors."
Ten years ago, when the United States and European Union were reeling from the Great Recession, Poland was the only nation within the EU that actually saw economic growth, by 2.6 percent. Katarzyna Stachowicz, one of the Polish visitors, was asked about the level of confidence American investors should have in her homeland.
"Poland gives a lot of possibility and these links give us possibility to cooperate in different areas, especially economic," she said. "We've got examples of excellent American investors in our region."
The examples Stachowicz identified include Pratt and Whitney, UTC Aerospace (which recently merged with Rockwell Collins to become Collins Aerospace) and Lockheed Martin. She said in all there are 160 small- and medium-sized companies within her region, Podkarpackie Voivodeship, which is known as "Aviation Valley" for its historic links to the aerospace industry. This region includes the city of Rzeszów, Buffalo's official "sister city" and the next scheduled guest of the 60 Million Congress in late August.
Among the new business opportunities desired is securing direct flight service between Buffalo and Warsaw via LOT Polish Airlines. The company's chief executive officer, Rafał Milczarski, is one of two delegates who will throw a ceremonial first pitch at Friday evening's Buffalo Bisons game at Sahlen Field.
Delegates will also tour the USS Little Rock, Niagara Falls and other local attractions and will be guests of honor at a gala to be hosted Saturday evening at The Mansion on Delaware.