Construction employment made the front page this week in The Buffalo News. With 3,600 jobs added in the last year, the no-boom-no-bust Buffalo-Niagara region is one of the top areas nationwide for rising construction employment.
Job growth in region’s construction third in U.S., The Buffalo News, December 6, 2011: The Buffalo Niagara region added more construction jobs than all but two U.S. metro areas in the last year, a result of health care, university and private-sector development projects that spurred an 18 percent gain in employment.
From October 2010 to October 2011, the region added 3,600 construction jobs, pushing employment in that sector to 23,900 — the highest point since before 2001, an industry official said during a Monday news conference outside the Larkin at Exchange Building just east of downtown Buffalo.
Except for recent growth, construction employment in Buffalo has been relatively weak over the last decade. From 2002 through 2007, the boom years of the housing bubble, net job growth was flat, and the level dropped hard during the recession in 2009. But employment has shown strength during the nationwide slump, first in 2008, and again during the last two years (Figure 1).
Adding to the job growth are projects by the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and the new downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. There was also a $10 million restoration project on an older downtown college building in August, 2011. The large neo-Gothic style building, completed in 1901, had been Buffalo’s central post office until 1963. Since 1981 it has housed the Erie County Community College downtown campus (Figure 2). The project is a good example of the productive use of construction investment to rehab and restore older buildings and residential housing. It’s a good alternative to the new-construction mania of the last decade, which the economy is still recovering from.
Buffalo boasts a large number of beautifully constructed older houses dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, about the time of the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 and after (Figure 3). Neighborhoods have gained recognition as National Register Historic Districts—for instance, the Parkside West historic district and the Woodlawn Avenue Row.
The number of districts is growing, as more apply for listing. Currently there are proposals for a Richmond Ashland Historic District and a University Park Historic District. Houses in these districts were built with wood from old-growth trees, harvested when they were at least 60 years old. The benefits of old-growth wood include its greater strength, its natural warp and rot resistance, and more.
Many houses built of old-growth wood in Buffalo have lasted a century or longer. With well planned renovation and maintenance they can last another hundred years. This kind of attention to older housing can work on a larger scale too, as in current redevelopment projects for Buffalo’s Statler Towers and the Hotel Lafayette.