Another Feel Good Story

December 29, 2009

Mike Madonia, UB alumnus and now Director of Development at the School of Engineering, writes about the impact that everyday Buffalonians – and everyday Buffalo – has on him and the people around him.

If only the Buffalo News could replace any one (of their typically four) alarmist and/or depressive tone-setting front-page reports with one of these every day; we’d all be smiling just a little more, holding our heads just a little higher, and seeing good PR about our area spread just a little further.


The Innovation Center

May 21, 2009

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I got a chance to tour the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Innovation Center – part of the former Trico complex – to see how progress is being made on turning the building into business and lab space for the fledgling Life Sciences industry in Western New York.

It looks, um, nice.  Inside it will be clean, bright and modern.  I only wish they would have gone for the “Thomas Edison” open laboratory look, but with various tenants doing super-secret bio-science stuff, walls are needed.  It is unclear what the exterior will eventually look like.  The only things apparent were the replacement windows and a bowed-out atrium.

The Innovation Center is a 100,000 square foot, 4-story add-on adjacent to the monstrous half-million square foot, 6-story Trico building that was essentially abandoned by the late Stephen McGarvey when he took ill, but not before he had the roof taken off.  Years of rainwater distributed Trico toxins throughout the building and the cost to clean up the mess means that the Innovation Center may be the only portion of the complex that is ever renovated.  So we’ll have a small, nice-looking building full of state-of-the-art laboratories servicing brilliant medical minds next door to a dilapidated poisoned edifice that is in such bad shape they’ve had to cordon off the sidewalk around it for fear of falling bricks.

Urban renewal comes slowly, in very small increments, to Buffalo.


Jack Davis, UB Philanthropist

November 14, 2008

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I write not to bury Davis, but to praise him.

Jack Davis was officially recognized for his $1.5 million donation to the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences this morning.  President John Simpson and Dean Harvey Stenger introduced Jack to the crowd, praised and thanked him, then turned the podium over to him.  Jack was genteel and gracious, and praised the university in return.

Then he put on his politician’s hat and gave us a lesson in trade imbalances and how that issue became square one of the current economic recession.  He also pleaded with us to jump on his bandwagon.

I think most of those in attendance were academics so this may have been the wrong crowd to preach policy to.  However, I’m glad to have gotten the opportunity to hear his impassioned speech, one that I’m sure he gave many times leading up to his defeat in the 26th district Democratic primary.  It didn’t quite seem appropriate but the crowd was politely receptive.  Frankly, if I were giving UB $1.5 million I’d expect them to applaud even if all I did was wear a rubber suit and walk backward.

He was not a jerk.  He was very cordial and polite.  I’d love to meet some of his employees and ask them how he is as a boss, to learn what Jack Davis is really like when he’s not out politicking.

Philanthropists labeled as irascible are still philanthropists.  Jack could easily turn his back on Western New York; yet he does not.  Kudos to him.


State of the University

September 24, 2008

UB’s President John Simpson told it like it was:  No punches pulled, no political rhetoric or bias.  He was plainly pissed at how the state of the State of New York has impacted the University at Buffalo.  The University is clearly going to be affected by its $20 million cut in state funding, helpless to generate compensating revenue because of bureaucratic laws enacted 50 years ago, and unchanged since.  Staff cuts are coming.

Simpson made a couple of profound points at this morning’s State of the University speech at Asbury Hall, one of them being not so subtle:  UB is not just the University at Buffalo.  It’s also the University of Buffalo and the University with Buffalo.  He is adamant about growing the Western New York economy by growing the University.  He basically asked the state to either help or to get out of the way.  He got lots of applause for that comment.

Simpson called the state short-sighted by cutting the higher-education budget, calling higher education not the problem, but the solution to New York’s economic woes.

If only the local politicians would get the message, but unless they were hiding I saw only two there:  Mayor Byron Brown and Senator Alphonse Thompson.  Brown’s typical political speech said nothing except that he is the mayor of Buffalo (about 3 times) and that the city of Buffalo is a great place.  Some shill in the front row started a round of applause every time the mayor finished two sentences, regardless of how un-profound his statements were (and they were un-profound).  Simpson got two standing ovations.  I thought he deserved the second one, if for no other reason than for calling a spade a spade.

Simpson’s speech can be read in its entirety here.


Grow or Die

June 5, 2008

Chris CollinsChris Collins gave a speech at the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership graduation ceremony on Wednesday, at which 50 small business leaders (aka “the students”) were honored for successful completion of the year-long course. The speech was focused on the rise of entrepreneurialism in Western New York, CEL’s advancement of it and its growing importance in the Western New York economy.

Collins’ speech got a little off-target at times, becoming somewhat political when he blasted the latest state legislation to move the merger of ECMC and Kaleida Health along. I didn’t understand how any of that related to either entrepreneurs or to CEL, and it sounded very much like venting on the County Executive’s part.

But one memorable comment that Chris made was a slam against Harvard Professor Ed Glaeser, who came to Buffalo in April to discuss how Buffalo needs to stop aiming for the glory days of high population and heavy industry, and rather shrink to success. Collins couldn’t have been more critical of this approach. “What is every company’s motto?” he asked, and then answered: “Grow or die.” Collins felt that Western New York on the whole needs to grow, not shrink, or it will die.  He said that his predecessors used to define success as less decline than last year; Chris pointed out that this inevitably leads to more decline.

I respectfully disagree with Collins criticism of Glaeser; he latched onto Glaeser’s sound bite without appreciation of the detail. Glaeser’s point was that infrastructure of all types has to represent the size of the urban environment today, not what it was 50 years ago or 50 years from now.  Buffalo has too much stuff for its population size and the support of that stuff is a real problem:  Too many houses, too much municipality, too much government.

In particular, with respect to government, the application of growth in all layers of government is what has helped make New York state – and especially upstate – the economic disaster that it has become. High taxes to pay for that government, plus unprecedented layers of bureaucracy and legislation have fueled much of our state’s paralysis and made it exceptionally unattractive to business. The growth of government has led to the shrinkage of our economy, and as a result, our population.

If anything, Collins should take Glaeser’s comments to heart and help shrink county government to help Western New York along the road to health. Collins needs to help get government off our backs, and he’s in a position to do just that.  I think that’s his goal.  I just don’t think he said it well last night.


Buffalo is a Closet

May 14, 2008

A generation ago I met a couple of students from the University of Buffalo, became friends with them, went to their wedding and even lived in the same apartment complex for a year or two. They were civil engineers, I developed software. Our careers took us down very different paths and although I would hear about them from time to time the years passed and we never again made contact.

A few weeks ago my company hired their son, also a graduate of UB. That led to a business connection that now links me back to the couple, to the Department of Transportation and to possible business opportunities with a civil engineering company, coincidental connections that I would not have expected to occur in any large metropolitan area.

But this is Buffalo, and re-connections like this happen frequently because this community is not just close-knit, it’s a closet.

There is a lesson in here about trying hard not to burn bridges. You cannot predict whether or not your paths will later cross in important ways.  Around Buffalo, it is likely that they will.


UB 2020 Update

April 22, 2008

Today marked the 2nd in a series of 4 forums designed to, well, design the University at Buffalo’s campus for the year 2020. Today’s forum, Campus Concepts, focused on getting each major group affected by the university – students, faculty, staff, community – up to speed on the various concepts envisioned by the planning professionals, to offer ideas, and to obtain feedback. About 700 attended workshops throughout the day.

A capstone session summarizing the day’s activities took place in the evening. Some quick notes follow.

  • Students and faculty were polled for ideas throughout the year. About 80 campus conversations have taken place so far.
  • The University is considering the shuffling of schools from one campus to another. In the most extreme shuffling, the downtown campus would grow from its current 400,000 square feet to over ten times that size and incorporate every school that had anything to do with medicine (and if the law students have their way, the Law School as well). At the other, lesser extreme, the School of Pharmacy would move from the North to the Main Street campus.
  • Traffic and parking are major considerations. The current parking footprint on the North campus is 87 acres, and would need to grow to over 108 should nothing change to reduce dependency on single-occupant vehicles. 93% of the students, staff and faculty operate single-occupancy vehicles on campus. Alternative transportation and ways to reduce the number of trips per person are hot topics for further discussion.
  • The campuses should grow by “densifying”, not by sprawl. In particular, the North Campus vision is to create a dense spine, with wind-breaking foliage and bright spaces conducive to student congregation (which is so, so different from the design of the North Campus, greatly inspired by and meant to prevent a recurrence of the campus riots of the late ‘60s).
  • Dramatically improve the North Campus lake, making it something more than just a drainage pond.
  • Create an urban, not a suburban, feel to the Downtown campus.

The next forum is November 19th, when a draft design plan will be presented to the public for the first time. Some people and groups are bound to be pleased, while others will anguish that their ideas weren’t considered the correct ones.

Is that also when the litigation will begin?