BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Members of the Buffalo Bills and Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin came together Wednesday morning to talk about the new “Level Up” program designed to help out small businesses.

The new program was described by the Erie County Legislature as something to “provide wraparound services for business owners who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to enable them to become qualified to bid on government contracts.”

“As of today, the combined total of NYS, Buffalo and Erie County MBE certified subcontractors who live in Erie, Niagara, or Monroe counties are less than 200 in total,” Erie County says. “This is insufficient to meet the demands of a $1.5 billion dollar stadium construction project that has mandated MWBE post-construction utilization goals, and the stadium project is only the beginning.”

The Legislature says the program was developed by Baskin in coordination with the county’s departments of Environment & Planning and Public Works, as well as the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.

Baskin, former Buffalo Bill Thurman Thomas and Ron Raccuia, the vice president of Pegula Sports & Entertainment, were among those who spoke during Wednesday morning’s conference detailing the program.

“As someone who is both a Buffalo Bill, and a minority certified contractor, today’s partnership announcement is remarkable,” Thomas said.

“This is an extension of the organization to the Bills’ commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity,” Raccuia said.

The Legislative Chair says it will give opportunities to people who may not get them otherwise through customized contracts “crafted to meet the capacity in which their business can deliver.”

“The lack of local MWBE-certified subcontractors creates a cycle of industry price gouging, out-of-state contractors and a persistent struggle within communities of color to maintain sustainable businesses and develop wealth,” Erie County says.

Through an example of a fictional business told to sell a certain amount of products or hire a specific number of people in a certain amount of time, Baskin said worries like this are a thing of the past with “Level Up.”

In the current pilot phase of the program, Baskin says 48 local business owners have been matched up with locally-based corporations. These business owners registered to participate through community workshops hosted by Baskin.

“Through our partnership with the Buffalo Bills, you will have upward mobility,” Baskin said.

Erie County’s website says “Level Up” will help businesses secure the following:

  • subcontracting opportunities with major WNY corporations
  • customized business credit lines with local banks
  • corporate joint-venture mentoring
  • MWBE certification mentoring
  • business sustainability services
  • business grant assistance navigation
  • business management courses

When “Level Up” officially launches in 2024, it will be housed in the county’s Department of Environment & Planning’s Division of Business Assistance. Annually, 10 businesses will be accepted starting next year.

Those interested in participating in the program can click or tap here.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.