The insurance sector in Buffalo Niagara is strong and has the potential to grow even further. The region features 8,000 current insurance employees with a strong educational pipeline from our 21 colleges and universities. Median hourly wages are lower than comparable metro areas and cost of living is lower as well.While the insurance cluster in Buffalo Niagara is ascending, you don’t have to take our word for it. We assembled some of the top names in Buffalo Niagara insurance for a round-table on the viability and future of their industry.
Art Wingerter, President & CEO, Univera Healthcare
David Anderson, President & CEO, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York
Bob Zak, President & CEO, Merchants Mutual Insurance
Why has your insurance company found success in Buffalo Niagara?
Art Wingerter: Our metro has more than a million people, but the feel is still "small town." Look in any direction and you'll see someone you know, or know of. In Western New York, you don't need six degrees of separation to find a common connection... and it's those easy connections that make this a great place to do business, and grow a business.
David Anderson: Well, we’ve been in Buffalo for 81 years. So as one of the original health plans and really one of the foundational companies, we grew with the community and have been ingrained in the community for all of that time. Additionally, there’s a really strong, stable, well-educated workforce here. We rely a lot on our workforce, as any service company does. We don’t have big plants and equipment. We’re a service business and service is all about your people
Bob Zak: The quality of the people in Western New York has been a key to Merchants Insurance thriving for over 100 years. They are well educated, have a strong work ethic and, more importantly, care about each other and their customers. That’s what the ‘City of Good Neighbors’ is all about.
What makes Buffalo Niagara good for other advanced business services and insurance companies?
Art Wingerter: I'll speak for my industry and our contribution to the business climate. Western New York's three main health insurers are locally based and nonprofit, so they're focused on their members, rather than on paying dividends to shareholders. That's helped our region maintain high quality and affordable health insurance, as evidenced by high marks from NCQA, and a historic low uninsured rate that's less than half the national uninsured rate.
David Anderson: The labor pool is attractive to any company, no matter who you are.
We’re also very resource rich here. Water, power and other natural resources are plentiful and accessible. Our proximity to Canada, our neighbors to the north, is really unique.
It’s also an affordable community and standard of living is high. I’m an example of it. I came from San Diego- highest cost of living outside of Manhattan. Part of the reason we have the long-term service employees that we have is here is because they stay here, and that cost of living is one of the reasons why they do it.
Bob Zak: The work ethic of the workforce in Buffalo Niagara is higher than anywhere else. The pipeline from our educational institutions ensures that will continue. On top of that, Buffalo Niagara is affordable, safe from natural disasters, and has short commute times.
What has your experience with the workforce in Buffalo Niagara been like?
Art Wingerter: Our company has about 500 employees in Buffalo, and about 5,000 across upstate New York. It's an educated, and dedicated talent pool that's committed to the region...they have roots here. There has been a significant investment and focus on high school graduation rates as well as workforce development. That distinguishes us from boom/bust cities whose workforce is comprised of transplants who will easily relocate for the next opportunity.
David Anderson: In California, I would occasionally sign 5-year service awards. Here, every month I sign several 30+-year service awards. Every month. That’s really unique. A lot of time cities have little slogans underneath their name—and they often don’t mean a whole lot—but I think here The City of Good Neighbors really does.
Bob Zak: We are so grateful to our workforce and are very well aware of their impact on our success. When you have a great group of people, you do what you can to keep them here.