Finding and retaining talent continues to be one of the biggest challenges for our region and across the country. Post-COVID, this has certainly been a challenge for the entire business community. Most employers have had to adapt their work schedules, flex their remote working capabilities and accept new employee expectations in order to meet the demands of business and the changing world of work.
In the Greater Rochester region, our Chamber has been charged by the ROC2025 partnership to take the lead on talent, which we have very passionately accepted. Our talent team is led by former Constellation Brands executive Barb Egenhofer, and we have recruited a group of superbly talented leaders to help advance our priorities.
The first update I would like to provide is on CampusROC, which focuses on engaging and retaining college students in our area. CollegeFEST, this program’s yearly signature event, was held for the second time on September 17 at Innovation Square, and it was a smashing success.
Innovation Square, which has been transformed by Andy Gallina and the team at Gallina Development, has hosted the last two CollegeFEST events, which could be described as combination of job fairs and Disney World for college students. There was a tremendous collection of employers and recruiters from our region, with activities and networking opportunities to connect college students with the numerous amenities in downtown Rochester and its surrounding region.
The goal of this effort is to create strong relationships with college students from our 19 colleges and universities so that when they complete their senior years, they look favorably upon the Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region for their future employment opportunities.
CampusROC and CollegeFEST, led by our talent team member Julia Pagano, are “must-attend” events for students, vendors and employers. Pagano has done a terrific job working with the three groups and we know that the program and further events will continue to grow in attendance and results each year.
The next update is on our Veterans Connect program. This effort started three years ago when a group visited Fort Drum to reestablish relationships with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. The group made the trip with the hopes of recruiting men and women who have completed their service with the U.S. Army and are open to career opportunities.
Fort Drum graduates 300 soldiers each month, most of whom are from other states. To my knowledge, Rochester has never had a robust talent pipeline between here and Fort Drum, but that has now changed. This effort is led by our Chamber teammate Yashira Rodriguez, who is a U.S. Army veteran along with her husband and parents. Rodriguez has a unique perspective on not only military life and service, but on what soldiers would be most attracted to when being recruited for future employment.
On October 7 and 8, Veterans Connect hosted the first cadre of soldiers from Fort Drum. Twenty-one men and women arrived on Friday night. We joined them for dinner at Fiamma Centro in Rochester, where we had a chance to meet these true American heroes. From Friday night through Saturday afternoon, the group was exposed to meals, tours, visits, fun activities, and interactions with a number of local employers and hiring managers to try to convince them of the opportunities that exist in the Greater Rochester region.
There are many highlights of the weekend but one that stands out was when these soldiers visited the Pittsford Wegmans. Here they were greeted by Danny, Colleen and Nicole Wegman, which made their visit all the more special. I commend Yashira, the entire talent team and all those who supported this incredible weekend.
While at the Friday night dinner, I thought we might be fortunate to attract one or two veterans back to the region, as most of the discussion was about weather. But by Saturday night there was no doubt that we had a great opportunity for at least half of that group to make a new life after their service career here in Rochester. Most importantly, these men and women will return to Fort Drum and speak very positively about their visit to Rochester. Thanks to Yashira and the group, the hospitality was simply outstanding. More to come on this.
The third program update to mention is Greater ROC Remote. This effort is being led by Melanie DellaPietra and is modeled after similar programs in Tulsa, Oklahoma and other cities. Greater ROC Remote offers a stipend of up to $10,000 for people who work remotely from other cities to move to Rochester. The team did a tremendous job advertising this program, and we have received over 1000 applications from 49 States to date.
On Saturday, October 15, we welcomed 21 of our newest residents and their families who have accepted the offer to move to Rochester. These men and women bring great talent and energy here. While many of our newest residents still work for companies in other cities and states, their spouses and family members are looking to start employment in Rochester, which we are happily assisting them with. There is no doubt that this first group will bring an array of economic activity to our region through home, car, and other purchases and investments. They also represent terrific talent that we hope will seek employment with a Rochester area company.
I and others joined our talent team for dinner last Saturday at Next Door on Monroe Avenue. It was a wonderful chance to meet our newest residents, see how much they appreciated this program, and to witness how they all mingled with each other and were establishing new relationships.
This program would not have been possible without the support of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce board and ROC2025 board chair Rob Sands and a cadre of investors, as well as the full support of ROC2025 CEO Joe Stefko. It was a terrific night with such a positive atmosphere for our newest Rochester residents. There were too many stories to tell from that night, but we will keep you updated about this effort in future.
Governor Hochul recently announced the creation of a new strategic workforce development office in her administration that will be led by Amber Rangel, who was a longtime executive at the New York State Business Council and is now focused on the workforce development challenges among our businesses. This office will be a great addition to all of our efforts: as I mentioned in my last column, we have already requested that the New York State Department of Education and our RCSD leadership consider changes in their curriculums to better prepare our students.
We are aligned, and work very closely, with other partners such as RochesterWorks, Monroe Community College and the Forward Center, and all of our regional partners. Workforce preparation is a challenge everywhere, but I’m proud of the work that is being done here. While our job is far from being completed, we are on the right path. I do believe that we can be a model for the state and country if we continue to work closely together as a team.
In closing, thank you to our Chamber team for all of their hard work and support to make these programs such a success. We want to again thank Rob Sands, all the investors and Joe Stefko for their support for all these programs. Recruiting and maintaining talent is not easy; it is a challenge, and we are competing with every city in the country to retain what we have and recruit new talent.
These three Chamber programs have been a terrific investment into our overall talent strategy, and I would consider each one of those so far as being a smashing success. I’m proud of the people who worked hard to make them successful and I’m proud of the investors who have invested their hard-earned money. I’m also thankful for all of the sponsors that have been part of this effort as well. It is important to note that private sector investment, not tax dollars, support these efforts. It has been a collective team effort and one that has been a huge value-add for the Rochester region.
These talent programs aren’t just in the pipeline – they actually create results right before our very eyes, and I expect them to grow commensurately over the next several years. Talent is just one of the resources that contribute to this region’s incredible potential, and Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is proud to be playing a role in strengthening that pillar even further.
Robert J. Duffy is president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at [email protected].a