A view of Seneca One.
Commercial tenants have been signing onto Douglas Jemal’s vision for a technology hub Seneca One Tower for several years now.
First was M&T Bank, which plans to staff its newly renovated 330,000 square feet of space in the tower with up to 1,500 tech workers.
Odoo, a Belgian software firm, followed in early 2020 by signing a lease for an entire floor of the tower and announcing expansive hiring plans.
More recently, Cleveland-based AML RightSource signed on for its own floor at the skyscraper, with company leaders calling Buffalo a hub for experienced talent as the company makes software a major part of its national growth plans.
These are exciting projects in Buffalo, where the business community has become accustomed to reading about corporate hubs being established elsewhere.
They are united by one thing: the tower itself as a recruiting tool in the worldwide competition for technology talent.
“The tower is a beacon that shows we have a robust tech ecosystem,” said James Partsch, TechBuffalo’s executive director. “It makes it more visible and tangible.”
The nonprofit run by Partsch seeks to create thousands of new tech workers in Buffalo in the coming years, partly by retraining and upskilling Western New Yorkers but also in recruiting people who already have advanced tech skills. TechBuffalo scored a $2 million grant from Empire State Development Corp. last year to coordinate those efforts regionally.
The question of making Buffalo a magnet for tech talent is taking place in a shifting national landscape, where the Covid-19 pandemic has created questions about whether tech corporations will spread their footprints away from costly urban hubs.
Buffalo’s cost-of-living, slower lifestyle and cultural amenities have driven several of those decisions, most notably Odoo and another startup, Kyklo, which chose downtown Buffalo as its headquarters in 2020.
Western New York’s bedroom communities spread from Lake Erie to Batavia, but with the exception of a few retail strips, what’s missing from that equation are dynamic neighborhoods stuffed with people and things for them to do.
While not the first mixed-use development in Western New York, Jemal’s Douglas Development stands alone in its pace, scope – Jemal has built several ground-floor structures before they had tenants – and vision. The $130 million makeover surrounds its corporate tenants with housing and will include restaurants and shopping opportunities.
Tenants have followed, and one by one, they’ve explained that they see the environment as a recruiting tool.
“If you take a look at other cities that are well on their journey right now (in creating a thriving technology economy), they all have something in common,” M&T chief information officer Michael Wisler told Business First recently. “They have a corridor, if you will. A place where this type of activity is happening. Where people eat, live, work, play and educate. That’s what we’re trying to build.”
In a region where many real estate projects are driven by a conservative mindset, Jemal has offered a faith in the idea of place-making, said Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of Buffalo’s Office of Strategic Planning. From believing that a “cool” environment means something to tech workers – and thus to the companies that need them – the decisions there have been driven by a philosophy about how people want to live and work in the 2020s.
“What makes the conversation difficult is that it’s built around measurables, with Douglas saying, ‘We’re going to make this place cool,” Mehaffy said.
Seneca One’s emergence and the idea of Buffalo’s place in the national tech economy are part of an overlapping web of ideas about the region’s future. With Covid-19 now as the dominant context, the conversations include high rates of poverty and a relatively stagnant economic trajectory when other urban hubs are booming.
Onlookers say that technology jobs are a crucial piece of that puzzle, offering the region a chance to grow and individuals a chance for stable, self-sustaining wages.
But the jobs need to be there.
“Talent is everything,” said John Gavigan, managing director of Endeavor’s office in Buffalo. “But you need people to think and act and operate big. If we do that, we win on a generational level.”
One of the first occupants of Seneca One was Lighthouse Technology Services, which moved in 2020 from its nondescript suburban offices to newly renovated space on the 28th floor.
As a technology staffing firm, Lighthouse has a front row seat to the expectations of modern employees, whose expectations have been set by major tech corporations, Lighthouse CEO Randy Harris said.
“They have created a picture of what the future of work for technologists looks like,” Harris said. “Seneca One takes that picture and puts a Buffalo spin on it.”
Here’s a look at some of the tenants located at or headed to Seneca One Tower.
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