This is the 2nd post in our new series of blog posts titled “UU Partner Perspective” written by the UU regional executive partners. This piece is written by Sandy Parker, Co-Founder of Unshackle Upstate and President and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance.
With three meetings under our belts, enthusiasm is running high among members of the Finger Lakes Regional Council.
It’s not that we’ve drunk the Kool-Aid on New York state’s future. We realize there are a lot of challenges ahead on the road to economic resurgence, some of our own making and some imposed by the national and global economies. And the recent flooding in parts of Upstate certainly didn’t help.
But the Regional Council – one of 10 in the state – has been charged with drafting a strategic economic development plan for our area. As part of the process of creating this plan, we’ve been about assessing our nine-county region – its strengths, its struggles, its unfulfilled promise.
That part has been pretty easy, because the truth is, there are a lot of positive attributes about life in the Finger Lakes, attributes that the Regional Council is hoping to capitalize upon in its economic development plan.
Many of these are noted in our Regional Council’s vision statement, which we’re still tweaking in preparation for our final report, due to Gov. Cuomo on Nov. 14. The statement refers to our region’s sustainable natural resources, its assets as a tourist destination, its expansive arts and cultural offerings. Even more importantly, in terms of stimulating job creation, it talks about our diverse, well educated and dedicated workforce. Put these together with our proven history of community collaboration, our celebrated entrepreneurial spirit, the unparalleled intellectual capital and products held by local businesses and our institutes of higher learning, and it offers a great recipe for success.
But what’s also sparked our enthusiasm is the process. On this council, I am one of 21 representatives from across the region, people from business, labor, and government, all coming together to openly share expertise and ideas. There have been some complaints that there isn’t sufficient representation on the committee, but I don’t agree.
The committee is made of major stakeholders in the process, and their task is to oversee a region-wide process that includes many opportunities for community engagement, with three more public engagement sessions to be held before the Nov. 14 report deadline. I’ve also heard people complaining that it’s the same old ideas being put forth by the same people, calling it a sign that the region lacks the creativity needed to succeed in economic development creativity. But I disagree with that, too. I believe that what this really demonstrates is that we, as a region, have clearly identified our assets and our obstacles, and that we are focused on our vision – creating jobs and growing our economy.
While I don’t want to give the impression that this council process will solve all our region’s economic problems, or those of any other region in New York, I do believe that we need to credit the state with an important change in course. This process is designed to engage communities more in their own futures, to make the state more nimble and responsive, to invest taxpayer money more wisely. It is a coordinated approach, so that when a project comes to the Regional Council, the people who can make it happen – the regional leaders, the economic development professionals, and the state agencies – will all be there in one place, poised to act.
Perhaps you have a project in mind? Now’s the time to share your vision.