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By Bill Bradberry

It's barely noticeable unless you know where to look and, even then, you have to know what you are looking at.

I noticed it about three years ago, when a few people I know began to notice it, too. Some of the people who left Niagara Falls a long time ago for greener pastures are coming home to stay. I began to ask around. Just how many people are coming home to the Niagara Frontier to live and work as opposed to the ones leaving because they cannot find work here?

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What would it take to convince people who have left the area over the past 30 years to come back home and help put this place back together?

There are probably more than 5,000 students graduating each year from local colleges and vocational schools, but there are almost no jobs available for the students when they come out wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and eager to find their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So what happens?

Most are willing to take something less than their dream job and are willing to work their way up from the bottom in some field far from what they thought they wanted to do and for a whole lot less money than they need in order to support themselves. So what do they wind up doing?

Of course, they have to find work someplace else, anyplace but right here where their skills are most needed but least demanded.

I wondered out loud to a number of people. What do we need to do to stop and reverse the outflow? What do we have to offer young, educated couples who are looking for jobs that we don't have here? Nobody had any answers, so I decided to ask those people myself.

The answers were not entirely surprising, but they would, if taken seriously, require some major changes in the way we do things around here.

For example:

  1. Using an international design competition, invite world-class architects and urban planners to create a real, comprehensive development plan, complete with legally binding enforceable minimum design standards, and an action plan that lays out in clear detail exactly what we need to do to create a livable city with jobs.
  2. We absolutely must begin supporting the entrepreneurs who have the resources to create and sustain jobs by eliminating unnecessary barriers to healthy development.
  3. Support the school system by endorsing the creation of a core curriculum that will produce the real skill sets we need to accomplish our objectives.
  4. Encourage Niagara University to move the entire campus from its present isolated site to the center of the city, where the School of Hospitality and Hotel Management, regarded as one of the finest in the country, might even consider taking ownership of any one of the available hotels, turning it into a working laboratory. The school could serve as a catalyst for adjacent development, while adding important dimension, depth and life to our otherwise abandoned city.
  5. Develop Lower Main Street as a viable arts and cultural district to promote the revitalization of the old Suspension Bridge City as a venue for artists, who could use the currently abandoned buildings as lofts and use the street-level floors for galleries, shops and restaurants.

The path we are on can only lead to further decline and an increased tax burden on the shrinking number of those who will continue to be left behind.

The former head of the Niagara Falls Equal Opportunity Coalition, Bill Bradberry is President of the Palm Beach Public Law Institute and President of the Niagara Movement Foundation. You may e-mail him at ghana1@bellsouth.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Dec. 14 2004