We are now more than halfway through a year we would all like to forget. As challenging as COVID-19 pandemic protocols have been for business and the community at large, the Rochester and Finger Lakes region has done things the right way. The numbers do not lie. I commend Gov. Cuomo and his team for the work they have done in bending the curve in a fact- and data-driven manner and implementing the New York Forward phased approach to reopening. I understand that some of the orders and guidelines have not been popular and not all businesses and industries are back up and running. However, had we not adhered to the guidelines, we would be well behind where we are today. The reopening process certainly has been methodical. For some, it may have been too slow, but it has proven to be a success, especially in comparison to other states that are seeing a resurgence in cases.
Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has done incredible work over the past four months, as well. Aside from our regular business services and advocacy work, we have taken on duties as part of the governor’s advisory team and the regional COVID-19 monitoring control room. I am also extremely proud of how the Rochester Chamber team has provided unparalleled service to our members and the business community. We have served as a provider of critical information, a sounding board, and a connection to elected leaders. Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has served our community with honor and distinction in doing things that few chambers of commerce can do.
I do take exception to those who have expressed the opinion that Rochester Chamber does not advocate for the business community. My view of advocacy is not stepping up to a microphone and criticizing or lobbing proverbial grenades at elected officials or leaders. That gets you nowhere. It may get you a headline or some attention in the six o’clock news, but it gets you no results because whoever you target in that particular situation will not respond to help move the needle and will not forget your targeting of them in the future. We advocate relentlessly behind the scenes. If you speak to anyone on the governor’s team or local elected leaders, they will tell you that we are constantly in contact with them in a constructive manner. Our job is to advocate. We don’t jump up and try to take credit for what we do. We connect people and share information with decision makers. Reopening guidelines and amendments to guidelines issued by New York State have come directly from information from the business community that we have shared.
In terms of the Finger Lakes regional control room, we do not make decisions. We share information with the decision makers. I am asked constantly to “open this” or “open that.” I cannot do that. It is not my job or responsibility or the responsibility of anyone on the control room team. When an executive order closes or modifies operations of a business or requires the public to comply, that comes from the governor. For those who are frustrated or believe we are not moving fast enough to reopen, look to Florida or Texas or Arizona or any number of other states experiencing a spike in infections after a quick reopening. New York started very high and has consistently come down week after week. This was not by accident and we do not want to go back up. I cannot stress enough the importance of distancing, hand hygiene, disinfecting and cleaning procedures, and face masks. Wearing a mask is not a sign of weakness or symbolic of an infringement of personal liberty. I hate wearing a mask, but I do it to help protect others. Because we have been vigilant, the Finger Lakes region has been the first to reopen in each phase of the New York Forward strategy. We are doing what is necessary to slow the spread and keep our numbers where they need to be. I do not want to go backward. We must keep looking ahead to a much brighter future.
In closing, I want to thank everyone in the region for following the guidelines in getting us to this point. We are rounding the bases and hope to make it home sooner rather than later. I also express my gratitude to the business community, which has shown amazing resiliency in absorbing losses and making difficult decisions associated with the pandemic. To the employees who have been furloughed or lost their jobs, I say hang in there as better days are coming. These business owners and workers have suffered through no fault of their own. I understand the frustration. I understand the pain. We are all feeling it. I also see light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is there because of the collaboration, teamwork, and commitment of people in this region. Our momentum is not going to stop.
Robert J. Duffy is president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at rduffy@GreaterRochesterChamber.com.