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Working together to tell Rochester’s full story of strength

Rochester is well-known in New York and across the country for its outstanding health care system, patents per capita generated through the work of local researchers, its 19 regional colleges and universities, and much more. Here at home, however, we often tend to focus on the negatives and the problems.

Yes, we acknowledge and are working on solutions to the challenges of student achievement in the Rochester City School District, poverty in our city and region, and the middle skills gap in companies looking for qualified workers to fill job openings. These problems exist across the country. No one has yet found a cure for all of them.

It is with an eye on both the positives and the challenges that we are trying to grow our economy and attract companies and talent to this region. Far too often, when people think of expanding their company here or coming to the Rochester region, what’s the first thing they do? They Google. What do they get when they Google?  More often than not, they first see the stories about some of the challenges that we face.

That quick glance does not tell the complete story, which is why we have to make a better effort to tell it ourselves.

While we do have to acknowledge the challenges, we must also promote and focus our strengths far more than we’re doing now. That includes marketing ourselves more effectively, talking about ourselves more positively, and highlighting all of the good things that happen here.

Each one of us can do this through what I call “airplane conversations.” When you’re sitting on a plane with someone, that brief conversation can forge an impression about our region. If all we talk about is the cold and the snow, the school graduation rates and the concentrated pockets of poverty, it puts Rochester in a far different light than if we talk about all of the strengths we have.

During my time in Albany and traveling around the state, I have come to believe that people around New York recognize the great strengths of Rochester and the Finger Lakes region. They also believe that we are very understated in touting those strengths. As a former mayor, I know that people in elected office sometimes have to highlight their areas’ weaknesses in order to get funding. That then becomes the lead story upon which people focus, causing them to overlook or forget all of the great things that we have.

Here are some thoughts for that airplane conversation: We are a hub of higher education, our optics and photonics industries are growing, and just these things alone prove that we are a very high-tech, highly talented, highly educated region.

Aesthetically, the Finger Lakes make up one of the most beautiful regions in the world. We rival countries in Europe and around the world for sheer beauty with just a short drive around the area. Rochester is the home of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and George Eastman. There is an internationally known legacy here. In more recent times, business leaders like Bob Wegman, Tom Golisano and Marvin Sands have passed along legacies that live on today.

In my short time so far as Rochester Business Alliance CEO, I fully appreciate the depth and strength of talent in our business community. We have so much going for us that in order to define our future and shape our legacy we have to look ahead to the next great employers in line to grow our economy and to face our challenges head on. No one can mobilize more effectively than Rochester. We are one of the most giving communities for charity in the country. We are one of the top volunteer communities in the country.

Again, we must shape our future by the way we talk about ourselves, by the way we communicate, and by the way we market our region from here on out. This doesn’t mean we just say the right things publicly—we have to really work together seamlessly behind the scenes for a better community. Like any community, we have lines of division that go along geography, demography and politics. If we’re going to create the true Rochester and Finger Lakes region of the future, if we want to attain the success that we all desire, it’s time to align our words and our actions both publicly and privately. What we say, we have to do.

New York’s Regional Economic Development Councils have started that process. They have brought people to the table who in the past were never there or never even knew each other. That has created an environment where people really work together toward common goals. I see that as a great model to follow and expand upon. We’re already doing it, but we have to take it to a different level.

I feel that we are all here for a reason: because we love this place. We shouldn’t forget that. We don’t have to hire a marketing firm to tout our region and why we love it. The best sales force that Rochester has is the people who live and work here. We should sell this region every single day in our words and our actions. If we do that consistently, the future will look brighter than anyone could have ever imagined. It is time to get busy.

Robert J. Duffy is president and CEO of Rochester Business Alliance Inc. Contact him at rduffy@RBAlliance.com.

3/20/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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