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ESD Announces Letters of Intent Open for Round 3 of Western New York Workforce Development Challenge


For Immediate
Release: Tuesday, December 1, 2020


Pamm Lent (Governor’s Office) | | (716) 846-8309 | (800) 260-7313

Laura Magee (ESD) | | (716) 846-8239 | (800) 260-7313

ESD Announces Letters of Intent Open for Round 3 of Western New York Workforce Development Challenge

Buffalo Billion Initiative Is Increasing Workforce Training Opportunities and Ensuring Western New York’s Workforce Pipeline Meets Industry Demands

Empire State Development (ESD) announced today that it is opening the application process for Round 3 of the Western New York Workforce Development Challenge. The WNY Workforce Development Challenge (WDC), a Buffalo Billion initiative, ensures the region’s workforce pipeline is responding to industry demands by promoting and investing in scalable approaches to workforce training for underserved populations. This $10 million fund was announced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2017.  In 2019, to further build on the program’s success, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced an additional $1.5 million contribution, for a fund total of $11.5 million. 

Round 3 of the program is being opened up ahead of schedule to be responsive to the region’s unemployment rates in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and with an emphasis on job opportunities identified by Western New York’s target industry sectors.  In an effort to better streamline applications to the program goals, all applicants in the third round will be required to submit a brief Letter of Intent (LOI) by Friday, Dec. 18.  Applicants whose LOI meets program requirements will be invited to discuss their proposals and complete an application.   A virtual public information session, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 7, will provide full program details and industry needs for workers (RSVP to for a session link). For more information on the program, and to submit a LOI, click here.  

“The Western New York Workforce Development Challenge is more important than ever as we work to grow the region’s talent pool and help employers access the highly skilled labor needed to move the economy forward,” said Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler.

“The Workforce Development Challenge investments in education and training programs provide WNY residents the opportunities to gain the skills they need to qualify for and succeed in high-quality jobs in growing industries – all of which align closely with the Foundation’s goals in WNY,” said Lavea Brachman, Vice President of Programs at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.  “The Foundation is excited to partner again with the State of New York in Round 3 of the WDC to promote innovative, employer-led, and equitable workforce programs.”

The goals and principles on which the WDC was created remain especially critical as New York State builds back from the COVID-19 pandemic: providing opportunities for those with limited education and those who are underemployed; building the capacity of existing workforce trainers and the workforce ecosystem; providing training in key sectors to address looming retirement cliffs; and working with private companies to establish training, skills certifications and industry job ladders for new and existing workers.  In Round 3, ESD is particularly seeking applicants whose programs are responsive to workforce and unemployment needs as identified and exacerbated through the COVID-19 pandemic, including target industries and occupations that have hundreds of unfilled entry-level jobs and harder-to-fill positions. The WDC program encourages projects that address new and existing training-industry gaps and strengthens the economy by equipping workers with skills and training for in-demand jobs in target industries. 

Not-for-profit organizations in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties could be eligible to receive at least $250,000 in WDC funding. To qualify, projects must foster workforce development in at least one of the region’s target industry sectors: advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, tourism, energy and agriculture.  As the region also sees a growing need for investments in the tech sector, and as the economy overall has become more tech reliant during the pandemic, the program encourages projects that prepare workers for tech occupations across all industry sectors. Preference will be given to those projects that specifically target historically underrepresented people, underemployed populations and employed populations seeking career advancement. 

Through two rounds of the WDC, $5.65 million in funding has been awarded to 10 local not-for-profit organizations and their projects. Grants are administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

About Empire State Development 

Empire State Development (ESD) is New York’s chief economic development agency. The mission of ESD is to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies. Through the use of loans, grants, tax credits and other forms of financial assistance, ESD strives to enhance private business investment and growth to spur job creation and support prosperous communities across New York State. ESD is also the primary administrative agency overseeing Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils and the marketing of “I LOVE NY,” the State’s iconic tourism brand. For more information on Regional Councils and Empire State Development, please visit and