The Migration of U.S. Manufacturing and Its Impact on the Buffalo Metropolitan Area

Robert W. Crandall

At one time, Buffalo was a major hub of United States economic activity. Located at the
end of the Erie Canal, it was an important trans-shipment point for goods moving to and from the Midwest. Later, it became a major railroad center, spawning investments in a variety of industries, including iron and steel-making.

Unfortunately, Buffalo’s unique location in the 19th century became a handicap in the late 20th century. Once a manufacturing center, Buffalo began to lose industry jobs and investment after World War II. As population and industrial activity steadily shifted to the South and West, all of the Middle Atlantic and New England states were de-industrialized. In part, this was simply the result of the superior transportation logistics available in the country’s mid-section, but it also reflected investors? desires to escape from a system of industrial relations that had become fossilized. Buffalo could not escape from these twin legacies of a poor location and a bad heritage of labor relations that plagued one of its major industries, steel.

A large share of the decline in manufacturing in the Buffalo area is attributable to a loss of metals and metals-related production. In the first twenty-five years after World War II, Buffalo was still a major steel production center, and metals-related jobs accounted for 60 percent of manufacturing employment. In the next twenty-five years, more than half of those jobs would disappear. Similar declines occurred in other eastern steel-producing centers; Buffalo was not unique.