BCG report highlights a stark reality in our region

BCG report highlights a stark reality in our region

web-sig_robert-duffy_The Rochester and Finger Lakes region is currently experiencing a very exciting time of economic development and growth planning for the future. A fantastic team from the renowned Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is nearing completion of a report on recommended best practices to improve our economic development outcomes. I expect BCG to share its final report within the next couple of months.

This project is sorely needed and comes to us thanks in large part to the leadership and generosity of Constellation Brands CEO and Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Chairman Rob Sands, Wegmans Chairman Danny Wegman, Paychex CEO Marty Mucci, and several other local top business leaders. While the cost of this effort did not come cheaply, the opportunities that the report identifies for the future are invaluable to us.

While both recent public and private investment have brought encouraging potential to our region, the BCG process has already identified some great opportunities for improvement. As I have written previously in this column, our region has often been mired in turf, egos, internal competition and institutional silos that have constrained us from reaching our potential. We have several economic development agencies that all do great work, but haven’t always worked closely together on strategic goals. We must create a true sense of teamwork, and the BCG report can be a template for doing just that.

The BCG study examined the Rochester and Finger Lakes region in comparison to other similar metros across New York and in the northern United States. The preliminary results have come in as a reality check for our region: We rank near the bottom of the list outside New York in the four main categories of measurement, including gross domestic product growth, real per capita income, unemployment rate and poverty. This information was stunning and a clarion call that we cannot continue the same economic development practices that we have in the past and expect improved results.

We sometimes delude ourselves about how great we are doing when we actually have a long way to go to compete at a high level with other metros across the country. I do not want to paint a bleak picture, but we are not as good as we think in several categories. It’s time to take a step back, pay attention to the data and advice given by the BCG report, and look at different ways to make some uncomfortable but necessary decisions to improve our outcomes.

A key part of this will be to identify key performance indicators that we can use to measure progress. Part of an improvement strategy is to assign various agencies and organizations tasks and responsibilities to achieve those tasks. We have not operated that way in the past. Using measurable data, there are some great opportunities for us.

I believe that there are some who are more concerned about who runs this effort versus what our results are. It is my sense that there is not going to be one person or one organization in charge; it will be a team effort. Those who spend their time and energy worrying about the issue of control are losing the point that we must operate differently in the future, and I’m confident that we will.

Another sobering fact in the BCG report is that our region depends disproportionately on state investment for the funding of priority projects. Other successful metros are driven primarily by private investment. If New York State and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had not made investments in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region over the past eight years, our circumstances would be much more challenging than they appear. While we greatly appreciate this state investment, another formula is required for our future success.

A major economic development focus moving forward will be a stronger emphasis on retaining and growing businesses that are already here rather than trying to recruit outside companies. We have to truly reexamine what keeps companies here. It may be infrastructure, quality of life, higher education institutions and things other than financial incentives. That will take a team effort across all of our economic development agencies and all of our local and regional governments to work collaboratively. The new “innovation economy” of high-tech and emerging companies is here. We must keep it here and growing.

The BCG study also uncovered that we have a myriad of regional marketing strategies but no unified message to promote the region both internally and externally. We have many voices and many messages rather than many voices with a single message touting our strengths. When you go out of the state or out of the country, Rochester is known as the home of Kodak and not for its many other strengths.

This does not mean that we lack strengths, by any stretch of the imagination. We must rethink how we can package and market those strengths more effectively and with a much more aligned message for both retention and recruiting of businesses here.

Looking back at our community and region over the years, we have seen many reports and studies on how to improve our outcomes. They get a bit of media attention and then go on a shelf somewhere, never to be seen again. My call to action now is that we embrace the Boston Consulting Group report when it is released and put its recommendations into immediate action. This can be a roadmap to collectively forge our path forward.

If we work as a team, I have no doubt that our future path is upward and bright.

Robert J. Duffy is president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at [email protected].