The Buffalo Billion initiative has a number of components — including tearing out part of the Robert Moses Parkway near Niagara Falls to build tourism and luring a high-end drug research company to set up stakes in Buffalo. But another chunk of start-up money totaling $4.5 million goes to a partnership between new company Empire Visual Effects and Amherst-based Daemen College with the hopes to create some 150 visual effects and animation jobs within five years.
IBC Digital, Daemon College and Sixteen19 have worked to pull this together, with support from the Post New York Association (Amherst-based IBC Digital and local Sixteen19 are PNYA members). This is a chancy move to attempt to build a competitive VFX center from scratch these days, with so much work going overseas for budget reasons.
But if you believe, like many do, that whatever Cuomo does as governor is with an eye on the White House in '16, Buffalo Billion takes on added importance and significance. Successfully creating jobs out of the tough economic Bad Lands of Western New York state is heroic task, and a must for Cuomo in his run. A success in Buffalo will be a huge differentiator from a likely challenger, New Jersey's Gov Chris Christie. Such economic planning from the top is anathema to Christie or any other probable Republican contender. Though the number of years it will take for this to be called a success by the state or local officials seems to keep moving further in the future (from 5 years to 10 and beyond at the latest),if Cuomo can show some kind of real progress, the number of grateful, out of work Americans voting for him alone might be enough to elect him.
(The Cuomo administration will also be helped by highly targeting the funds: rather than just dumping a lump grant to some regional "planning" commission, the bureaucrats are boosting only two other areas besides animation/graphics at the moment, medical research and tourism.)
Politics aren't as important as jobs, though, so let's hope this takes off. Buffalo and the surrounding areas of Western New York have been considered part of the Rust Belt for years, yet the area has both some great natural beauty and striking architecture such as the 1915 Tri-Main Center in Buffalo, where Empire Visual Effects is setting up shop.
If you're curious and want some analysis of the grant and its effects that are closer to the ground, check out Buffalo-based WGRZ TV's report, this article from Buffalo Business First, and this in-depth take from WKBW TV’s site.
Here's the press release from the New York State press office:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that through the Buffalo Billion initiative, a new post production, visual effects and animation company will be established at the landmark Tri-Main Center in Buffalo. Empire Visual Effects, which will partner with Daemen College, has pledged to create 150 new visual effects and other post production jobs within five years – jobs that will pave the way for the creation of a new post production and visual effects industry in Western New York. New York State awarded the company and Daemen College a $4.5 million capital grant to facilitate the project.
The project is also supported by several pieces of legislation Governor Cuomo championed and signed into law in the past year which strengthened incentives to attract post-production film and television activity to the state. The new laws are designed to help attract post production work to communities, particularly in Upstate New York.
"We are pleased to welcome Empire Visual Effects to the City of Buffalo as they plant their roots in Upstate New York," Governor Cuomo said. "The establishment of Empire Visual Effects is evidence of the great potential of transforming Upstate and Western New York into a major film, animation and post production destination for the industry. I am confident the momentum, coupled with our Buffalo Billion commitment, will drive even more investment and projects to this region. This will mean more good-paying, high-tech jobs for New Yorkers in an exciting field."
"I want to thank Governor Cuomo and his unrelenting staff, who are committed to supporting an environment of opportunity that creates jobs in this great state" said Marcelo Gandola, Co-chair Post New York Alliance, advisor to Empire State Visual Effects. "This is an outstanding day for Upstate and Downstate NY, and the film and television post production industry as a whole. I thank Daemon College who took the first step in creating the essential education piece of this process. Ben Porcari, Jonathan Hoffman and Pete Conlin have created what I feel will be a standard in the VFX/post production industry. New York State, the Post New York Alliance and the film and television industry should be proud of what has been accomplished here. I'm humbled to be part of this project and know I will look back at the success of this venture and this pivotal moment."
Yana Collins Lehman, Co-chair Post New York Alliance, and Managing Partner at Trevanna Post, said, "The Post New York Alliance thanks and congratulates Governor Cuomo, whose commitment to removing barriers to job creation has been unwavering. PNYA members IBC Digital, Daemon College and Sixteen19 have realized a great vision for the State of New York and the Post Production industry. Training students in the field of Visual Effects in Western New York, rather than relying on overseas vendors, has been a dream of the Post Alliance-and is coming true today. I am so grateful to my PNYA co-chair, Marcelo Gandola, who always sees the big picture and whose idealism and determination is in large part responsible for this project. Empire State Visual Effects is just the beginning of what is possible when our state government partners with education and private industry. It is a great day for all of us."
The grant funding will also provide Daemen College's International Center for Excellence in Animation (ICEA) with significant new technology tools for a Visual Effects Certificate Program. The program will provide fast training for students in Buffalo and Western New York who will be hired by the new post production/animation company.
"Daemen College and its International Center for Excellence in Animation have been working for more than a year with Empire State Development and Marcelo Gandola to forge this impressive partnership of higher education with the visual effects industry," said Daemen President Gary A. Olson. "Thanks to the vision of Governor Cuomo and his Empire State Development team in Buffalo and New York City, Daemen and its private sector partners are well on their way to creating new high-paying employment opportunities right here in Western New York, for those young people who wish to enter the growing animation sector of the national economy."
The Buffalo Billion incentive funding will be utilized to provide space build-out; special computer and high-speed internet networks; supercomputer connections; and other power systems specific to the new company's requirements in setting up a state-of-the-art post-production/animation platform at the Tri-Main Center. The funding will also allow Daemen College to establish the technology infrastructure required for its Visual Effects Certificate student training.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said, "SUNY's community colleges will provide the vital workforce training that is needed to meet the goals of Governor Cuomo's Buffalo Billion Initiative and create the industry hubs Western New York needs. Partnering New York's colleges and universities with the business community, including through internships and experiential education, is the best way to support new economic activity and provide the best opportunities for our students."
Through Empire Visual Effects partnership with Daemen College and a network of community colleges, such as Erie Community College and Niagara County Community College, across the state, it will secure a steady stream of qualified students ready to meet the challenges of the modern day visual effects industry. Daemen College will develop a world-class visual effects training facility, which will have all the software, hardware, computers and pipeline infrastructure needed to train the workforce and interface with industry. The college has also developed and is growing a 16-week visual effects training program that will train more than 60 students per year. These students will be ready to go directly into jobs at Empire Visual Effects and other post production facilities around the state.
The goals of Empire Visual Effects are also in line with Governor Cuomo's economic reforms to workforce training for job openings. New York's workforce training is from a different era and a generic job training program does not fit today's economy. The 2013-2014 enacted budget capitalizes on the opportunity of an estimated 210,000 unfilled jobs in the state by including $5 million for the Next Generation Job Linkage Program that works with employers to identify the job, define the skill and provide the training for it.
Western New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair and President of the University at Buffalo Satish K. Tripathi said, "Pairing the strengths of a higher education system and an innovative new company in an exciting field that Governor Cuomo supports is a win-win for Western New York. There are very few states that offer a post production work credit and New York being one of them will drive business to this new studio. I applaud the Governor for making smart investments that attract businesses, create jobs and generate economic activity."
Western New York Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair and Larkin Development Group Managing Partner Howard A. Zemsky said, "Empire Visual Effects builds upon the strategies for prosperity laid out by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and the Buffalo Billion Investment Development Plan, including innovation, workforce development, smart growth and job opportunities for young adults. The success of Governor Cuomo's expanded post production program helped bring this project to fruition and will allow it to succeed."
Buffalo Niagara Enterprise President Thomas Kucharski said, "Empire Visual Effects is precisely the kind of innovative higher education/private sector initiative that can be transformative for our region, and we are delighted to welcome this new business to Buffalo Niagara. We look forward to working with them, Daemen College, and our colleagues at ESD to help the company meet its goal of developing a new industry and creating new jobs in our community."
"The future of Western New York's economy is dependent upon the creation and attraction of new jobs and new industries to our region." Says Senator Patrick Gallivan (R, C, IP-59). "While our community has always been home to world class architecture and picturesque scenery, upstate New York has lost out on lucrative filming projects and the jobs they bring with them because we lacked the economic and professional tools to compete with bordering states. The establishment of a post production, visual effects and animation company in the City of Buffalo, combined with the enhanced upstate film production tax credit enacted this year, will put Western New York in position to become a national leader for motion picture production."
"One of our goals as a state is to create new jobs and help New York State residents establish careers that will allow them to stay here and raise a family instead of moving elsewhere," said Senator Mark Grisanti. "Empire Visual Effects is going to help attract high-tech jobs and will help provide Daemen College with another marketing tool to recruit more students to the school. The grant monies awarded to Empire Visual Effects will help create approximately 50 new jobs each year over a three-year time period, a tremendous return on investment for the taxpayers of New York State, especially those who live in Western New York."
"The City of Buffalo is rich with a myriad of creative and talented artists, many of whom I hope take advantage of this opportunity to showcase their abilities" said Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes. "I'd like to thank Daemen College, Empire Visual Effects, and the Governor's staff for the vision and drive to create 150 new jobs here. Establishing a cutting-edge industry while growing our creative class will only continue to move Western New York forward."
The entertainment industry is a major component of both the U.S. and New York State economies. The motion picture and television industry is responsible for 91.608 direct jobs and $8.2 billion in wages in New York, including both production and distribution-related jobs. The current trend for the last several years is that the post production of film budgets has been increasing dramatically due to demand for visual effects.
"By putting in place a mechanism for training upstate workers in the art of visual effects, and then giving them a place to work after graduation, this program will help establish the upstate region as a destination for post-production work," commented Rick Cotton, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, NBCUniversal. "We see that as good, long term thinking about the best way to create well-paying jobs in New York State. It's also another very positive effect of the improvements that Governor Cuomo has made to the state's production and post-production tax credit programs."
Signed by Governor Cuomo in July 2012, the new film and tax credit law boosted the available post-production credit from 10% to 30% in the New York metropolitan commuter region, including New York City and Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties. For post-production work in Upstate New York, 35% in tax credits were made available to encourage additional investment and construction of new facilities in the region. Then in April 2013, the Governor signed new legislation further expanding and improving the program, including extending funding through 2019, and lowering the thresholds for VFX and Animation from 75% to 20% of the total VFX /Animation budget or $3 million (whichever is less). Also added was an additional 10% credit on qualified labor starting in 2015 for productions shooting or posting, which means productions will be able to get up to 45% tax credit on labor expenses incurred in the State.
Post-production includes all of the editing after filming is complete and includes visual effects, color correction, sound editing and mixing. The industry also includes thousands of other jobs, from engineers and messengers to creative and support staff. The strengthened law was designed to expand state support by specifically focusing on attracting post production work to communities in all corners of the state. At a time when other states are experiencing production flight, New York's strengthened credit supports a robust industry cluster which has become a major source of direct and indirect employment and economic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people.
To learn more about the State's film and television incentive programs, GO HERE.
About the Buffalo Investment Strategy
With Governor Cuomo's commitment to invest $1 billion in the Buffalo area economy, which is designed to spur significantly greater private investment and create thousands of new, sustainable jobs, New York State is helping the Buffalo area to realize immediate economic growth to put "generation now" back to work while setting the foundation for sustainable economic opportunity for future generations.
The Western New York Regional Economic Development Council (WNYREDC) – a top economic development plan award winner – will play a key role in how the funding is used to support the expansion of local companies and how to target the attraction of new businesses across the country and around the globe to come to Buffalo. Those businesses will likely be related in some manner to the cluster industries identified by the WNYREDC in its strategic plan, which include, advanced manufacturing, agricultural/food processing, bi national logistics and distribution, energy, life sciences/medical devices, professional services.
To learn more about each regional council and their economic development plans, visit www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov. For information on how the New New York is working for business, please visit www.thenewny.com.