Rural Sourcing officially joined the catalog of tech firms choosing to open an office in Buffalo this month, when it announced an operations hub that could staff up to 150 technologists in the coming years.
In doing so, it joins recent companies such as Odoo, Kyklo and AML RightSource that chose to make Buffalo a big part of their strategic growth plans.
The Atlanta-based company does custom software development for clients, and has established similar hubs in eight other cities (Baton Rouge and Buffalo, announced simultaneously, will bring that number to 10).
The project came together quickly. The firm used an internal tool to analyze metro regions across the U.S. that offered a diverse workforce and affordable operating and cost-of-living environments.
Rural Sourcing reached out directly to Invest Buffalo Niagara for help in scouting the region, with an initial conference call in July (Invest Buffalo Niagara subsequently dubbed the initiative ‘Project 100’). Buffalo had made the company’s shortlist by late summer, and its executives visited the region for a packed two-day tour in September, Invest Buffalo Niagara research director Matthew Hubacher said.
In some ways, it was a standard visit for a company considering the region for a site location, Hubacher said. But because the Rural Sourcing team came in with a clearly defined set of priorities, they were treated to a customized itinerary that could become a template going forward.
“Everything they said from the beginning about what was driving this decision had me thinking, ‘We stand a good chance to win this one,” Hubacher said. “We were able to demonstrate what they saw on their original search.”
Rural Sourcing CEO Monty Hamilton, president Ingrid Curtis and chief financial officer Tre Sasser flew into Buffalo on Sept. 21, settling downtown that evening at The Westin Buffalo hotel (complete with Buffalo-themed gift baskets waiting for them in the hotel rooms).
The next morning, a Wednesday, they visited the Invest Buffalo Niagara offices at 257 Genesee St., where they met with a team of university educators and staff from the University at Buffalo, SUNY Erie and Trocaire College. The discussion ranged from traditional four-year programs in computer science to two-year and credentialing courses. Next they met with representatives from the New York State Department of Labor and International Institute, including Denise Phllips Beehag, the institute’s director of new American integration.
“They were very interested in that conversation,” Hubacher said. “Not only that we are a binational location and the potential to attract workers here, but also that we are a center for refugee resettlement. They are interested in investigating opportunities to bring a more diverse workforce” to the technology industry.
Lunch followed at the Liberty Hound and a walking tour of the developments at Canalside, before the crew walked the short distance to Seneca One Tower, in the midst of a $120 million redevelopment by Washington, D.C.-based developer Douglas Jemal.
There they had a succession of meetings with leaders at M&T Bank, which unveiled its 11-story, $58 million Tech Hub in the tower earlier this year. They met with Michele Trolli, the bank’s head of corporate operations and enterprise initiatives, and Keith Belanger, M&T’s chief of corporate services, who gave a tour and described the project. Then they headed upstairs to M&T’s Tech Academy, where they met with Sarah Tanbakuchi (M&T’s senior technology manager who was recently named head of the TechBuffalo workforce initiative) and M&T tech managers Lindsay Aleshire and Nadine Powell.
The Rural Sourcing team also had informal conversations with some of the tower’s tenants such as Kevin Siskar, 43North vice president of portfolio and selection, and Aly Finkle, AML’s director of talent acquisition and experience.
After a brief respite for everyone to catch their breath, the team had dinner at Bachus Wine Bar & Restaurant attended by Invest Buffalo Niagara staff and leaders from the public and private sectors. Any hope of meandering around Chippewa and nearby streets was squashed by heavy rainfall, so the groups said their farewells for the evening.
Hubacher picked up Hamilton, Curtis and Sasser from their hotel on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 23, and led them on a tour of commercial real estate in Buffalo. While he declined to discuss the specific places under consideration, the Rural Sourcing team was scouting initial locations to start building their operation in Buffalo and also long-term options – Rural Sourcing eventually expects to buy or lease a 15,000-square-foot facility to be its permanent home in Buffalo.
They drove through the central business district, Allentown, the Elmwood Village, around Delaware Park and toward Niagara Street before stopping for lunch at Gene McCarthy’s in the Old First Ward.
“At the client’s request,” Hubacher said. “They wanted wings, so we provided a good wing spot.”
Next they drove to 95 Perry St. for a meeting with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and Empire State Development Corp. (ESD has pledged Excelsior Jobs Tax Credits to the project). ECIDA president and CEO John Cappellino and business development officer Grant Lesswing were present, along with ESD director of industry development R.J. Ball, who led the project on the state’s end. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown attended the meeting, explaining his vision for the city and asking questions.
The final formal stop of the visit was at K Haus on Main Street, where Invest Buffalo Niagara introduced the Rural Sourcing team to Say Yes to Education Buffalo’s Stephanie Peete and Leadership Buffalo CEO Althea Luehrsen. They were also introduced to several ambassadors of Invest Buffalo Niagara’s Be In Buffalo campaign, featuring professionals who relocated to Buffalo from other cities. That group included Royce Woods, Evans Bank vice president of community development; Merelin Antoni Ruiz, a supply quality engineer at Moog; and Elizabeth Graves, a third-party risk manager at M&T.
“They spoke about their experiences in other cities and relocating in Buffalo,” Hubacher said. “I can tell you that meeting specifically resonated with the Project 100 team. It was a unique meeting that they didn’t necessarily have in other regions they were visiting.”
When the official agenda concluded, Hubacher ferried the team to Niagara Falls State Park, where they spent about a half-hour before heading back to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. They flew back to their destinations without any incident, Hubacher said.
Speaking to Business First, Curtis said the team was impressed not just by the infrastructure in Buffalo but also the cohesive environment they witnessed on their visit.
“It was extremely welcoming,” she said. “The public and private sectors are coming together to create a place where a company like ours can have a great presence and have an impact. They’re wrapping their arms around a new industry and helping it expand.”