Rochester Area Chamber and its leader receive high honors  

Bob Duffy, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, has been recognized by City & State NY as a key leader driving economic development in New York State on its 2022 Economic Development Power 100 list. 


The Economic Development Power 100, published by the politics and policy magazine City & State, recognizes the most influential elected officials, business executives, policymakers, academics, advocates and others who are creating jobs and improving the economic wellbeing of all New Yorkers. 

In his role, Duffy has focused on ensuring prosperity for Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, with a particular focus on talent retention and workforce development.  

Most recently, he has led Greater Rochester Chamber’s talent strategy programs which include initiatives such as Greater ROC Remote, CampusROC and Veterans Connect. Duffy is also recognized as a champion for advancing DEI efforts and working with elected leaders to advocate for businesses and business growth in the region. 

“It is a true honor to be recognized on this list with so many great leaders in New York State economic development,” Duffy said in a statement. “The future is bright because of the work these individuals are doing to provide equitable development for businesses and talent.” 

The news comes shortly after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce with its designation of Accredited with 5 Stars for its sound policies, effective organizational procedures and positive impact on the community. 

This is the second consecutive time Greater Rochester Chamber has achieved this highest level of distinction from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There are only two other five-star accredited chambers in New York, and only 142 of 7,000 chambers nationally have received this honor. 

The purpose of the U.S. Chamber’s Accreditation Program is to facilitate continuing excellence in the chamber industry and to foster a pro-business environment across America.  

In order to receive Accreditation, a chamber must meet minimum standards in their operations and programs, including areas of governance, government affairs, communications and technology.  

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

Time to restore a sense of peace and tranquility to our community

Many issues and factors impact economic development in the Rochester region. We often debate taxes, regulations, and other legislation that impacts business growth and prosperity. I will add one more: the issue of public safety.

Rochester has been at a crisis point with public safety over the last several years, with a recent incident being the cold-blooded murder of Rochester police officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz on July 21, 2022. The death of Officer Mazurkiewicz, along with the other 52 Rochester victims of homicide at the time of this writing, means that we have a community experiencing great pain.

I polled the entire board of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, who represent our top business and educational leaders in this region. Almost unanimously, they agree that public safety and crime levels have a huge negative impact on businesses, our economy, and those who live and work in our community. We hear from businesses that customers and employees are afraid to drive down streets in our city. The level of fear and anxiety is taking a human, social, and economic toll.

Children can’t walk to the corner store without being accosted or shot. People are afraid to leave their homes day or night because of the consistent, random shootings that seem to rock our streets every day. Rarely a night goes by where an occupied house is not struck by gunfire. The time has come to restore a sense of peace and tranquility to our community.

I have communicated with the Governor, the New York State Senate Majority Leader, the New York State Assembly Speaker, along with Mayor Evans and County Executive Bello regarding our business community’s concerns. I have written correspondence that reinforces this collective concern about the current state of violence in Rochester, and the impact it has on our local, statewide and national reputations. When businesses or site selectors look at an area’s potential for expansion or relocation, the first thing they may do is a simple Google search.

We are a community with great things in progress now. We can’t let the bad news emanating from the current state of crime and violence drown out all the terrific things going on that we are so deeply proud of. We are in a campaign year, which makes it more difficult, but I think we have to state some of the obvious issues.

The first issue is bail reform, of which there are some very positive aspects. If two people are arrested for the same charge – one with affluence and the other impoverished – they should not be treated differently in our current system. On the other hand, those who violently assault, rob, steal, and commit the shootings and murders that we’ve seen far too often in Rochester over the past two years should not be allowed back on the streets.

Whether it is the reality or the interpretation of bail reform, something is not working. The Governor has led some recent changes to this legislation, and what we need to seek now is the true data. Is it the legislation or does it come down to judges and prosecutors making poor decisions on who should be remanded to jail and who should not be? At this time, there is great confusion around where the blame and problems lie.

There was a time in New York State when a conviction of possessing an illegal weapon carried a mandatory jail sentence of one year. Judges had no discretion during those years, and advocates argued that they should have more discretion. Now those same advocates argue that judges should have less discretion. Legislators in Albany should not create a lack of flexibility for judgment by duly elected judges in their respective communities. Both sides argue their points, but it still is unclear if the problems lie in the true verbiage of the legislation, or the judgment of those making decisions on bail at the local level. It is imperative that we get the facts and take steps to help restore order.

A program called Measures for Justice is led by a local resident named Amy Bach, who has created an effort to dive into the actual data in our criminal justice systems to help police, prosecutors, and the community better understand and address the issues in that system and on our streets. The Measures for Justice program is being used in other communities around the country, and Rochester is just getting started. Thanks to the generosity of Constellation Brands chair Robert Sands and the Sands Foundation, along with other business leaders, there is private sector funding to help expand the program here in Rochester. I have been on webinars and meetings with Amy and other leaders and the response has been very positive.

This program should not be considered the one answer to the issues that we are facing in terms of crime and violence, but it is clearly a tool that can be helpful in focusing on the actual data to assist our criminal justice system, address inequities, and focus resources in areas that will have the highest impact. Already, there have been collaborations with the Rochester Police Department, the Monroe County District Attorney’s office, and other community leaders.

We need to expand our participation so that all areas of the criminal justice system are represented, and all can provide the important data, perspectives, and suggestions for solutions. Greater Rochester Chamber supports Amy Bach and the Measures for Justice program as one more potential tool in our local toolbox. If the right support is provided, Rochester could become a national model for the utilization of this data.

In the aftermath of the death of Officer Mazurkiewicz and the violence that we’re experiencing, it is so important to create stronger relationships and a greater sense of trust between the police and our community. No one argues that historic issues have created this sense of distrust, but we cannot attack an entire profession based on the inappropriate or wrongful actions of a relatively finite group here and across our country. We should fix those problems, and both reinforce and uphold the highest standards of behavior and service.

I can tell you from experience that the overwhelming number of police officers are dedicated, hardworking, honest, professional men and women who do a very difficult job very well. Yes, mistakes and communication issues can happen. Yes, some egregious acts can occur, and they must all be addressed. But those acts pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands and, across this country, millions of contacts every day, week, month, and year between police officers and the communities they serve that are positive, helpful, and great examples of public service.

Politically, it has become difficult for some to publicly stand up for the men and women in law enforcement, and some have jumped on a bandwagon for defunding the police in the past. Our community and nation are realizing that we need our police officers. We need them well-trained and professional, and we need them to perform their jobs at the highest levels of dedication and service.

I attended Officer Mazurkiewicz’s funeral, and anyone who watched that solemn ceremony walked away with a greater sense of the pain and frustration – not only for the family, friends, and colleagues of Officer Mazurkiewicz, but among the men and women who are on those streets every night. There is a huge disconnect between what occurs on our streets and at the highest levels of government that render decisions that impact those streets.

Over the last few years, some of the words and actions sowing the seeds of division around this region are responsible for what we are seeing today. We have to stop the fighting. We have to come together and seek a better path forward with our excellent leaders at the local, state and federal level, who are in positions to help fix this.

We need to acknowledge that what we’re doing currently is not working, and that those most affected live in the most dangerous and impoverished conditions. We owe them a responsibility to act, and we should never apologize for removing violent criminals from our streets. The most important thing we can do is to bring back a sense of safety and order, which will help us to do a much better job addressing some of the other large problems that that have brought us to this day.

As our community has honored the loss of Officer Mazurkiewicz, we also have to recognize and honor the losses of the other 52 families in Rochester. Every single life is important, and these lives are being lost to the violence on our streets.

Crime and violence have always existed in Rochester and there’s never been just one solution. For those of us who have grown up, lived, and served here, whether it is a reality or perception, it appears that things now are worse than we’ve ever seen. This provides us with a great opportunity to lead change, and lead that change now. Lives depend on it, and we owe it to those families and children who have to live with this horrific situation every single day of their lives.

Our community needs our police and other services, and our public servants need the community. Neither one can be successful if they’re at odds with each other. Those who have used so much energy to create these divisions, as opposed to working on the problems, have done a great disservice to the people of Rochester. There’s a time to turn the page on this sad chapter and start a new one. And that time is now.

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


Employers have many opportunities to sell students on Rochester

web-sig_robert-duffy_Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has intensified its focus on workforce development and talent strategy. Recruitment and retention of skilled, qualified and motivated workers has emerged as a key part of our region’s economic development future. Through meetings with workforce development stakeholders and a survey of Rochester Chamber members over the past few months, we have learned a great deal about the needs and desires of both employers and potential employees.

One clear opportunity is the potential for employers to establish and maintain relationships with the incredible talent emerging from our region’s 19 colleges and universities. While many of these schools have very robust internship and co-op programs, we have identified some ways to enhance these school-to-work opportunities. Students often explore internships once they reach their junior or senior years. A suggestion that arose from our meetings encourages companies to engage with students as early as their first days on campus as freshmen. Giving students professional, social and community experiences can increase their chances of staying in Rochester after graduation.

To avoid the dreaded “brain drain,” we must instill in these talented brains early on that Rochester is an excellent place to live, work and play. Another suggestion was for colleges and universities to offer residence hall housing to students during the summer so they can live affordably while completing internships or working summer jobs here. We can compete with any region across the country for job opportunities, affordability, quality of life and future economic growth potential. We must all find a way to effectively share that message with students.

Student leaders at our meetings have reported that job fairs on their campuses feature many employers from outside Rochester. I encourage our regional employers to increase their efforts to get themselves in front of students at our colleges and universities. Rochester Chamber can help make those connections. The relationships we create and nurture though co-ops and internships are invaluable. These opportunities must provide students with meaningful work and the chance to interact with those in their chosen fields from line workers up through top management.

Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce hosted an RIT Saunders School of Business co-op student from India over the summer as she completed a degree in business analytics. She performed tremendous work in compiling and analyzing talent strategy data. We hope this experience encourages her to stay in Rochester, and it appears she’s leaning in that direction. When young men and women come into our companies as students, it is an audition for their future employment, but it is also an audition on behalf of the company to make the case for the students to stay in our region. These internships and co-ops go a long way in helping students decide whether to stay or leave. Employers are recruiting their future talent during every contact they have.

As I noted earlier, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is willing and happy to act as a connector between employers and our outstanding colleges and universities. If your company does not have a relationship with one of our many higher education institutions, contact the Rochester Chamber team at [email protected]. We will put you in touch with the right institution to address your talent needs.

Rochester Chamber is also pleased to partner with The College at Brockport, St. John Fisher College, SUNY Geneseo, Nazareth College, the University of Rochester, and the Rochester Area Career Development Association to host the Intern Bridge Total Internship Management Workshop on Oct. 10. The event shares strategies to build a successful internship and talent entry program that benefits both student and employer. Topics covered in the workshop include engaging interns with meaningful work assignments, identifying future hires through an extended interview process and increasing brand awareness on college campuses. For HR pros out there, the workshop also includes six hours of HRCI and/or SHRM-PDC credit. Visit for more information and to register.

Our colleges and our community want graduates to stay here and be supportive alums and residents. Our companies need this talent to stay on the road to success. We should not be desperate for workers to fill the countless open positions across our region when we have so many talented young people who are starting their careers, whether after college degree programs or career and technical training.

Now is the time to make the necessary adjustments to prove why Rochester is the right place to start and maintain a career for a lifetime. Relationships matter. Let’s collectively roll out the proverbial “welcome wagon” for all of our students from their first day on campus through graduation.

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


State assists in Zweigle’s expansion plan

Zweigle’s, Rochester’s homegrown meat manufacturer, plans to build a 29,000 square-foot expansion and create 33 new job after gaining state support of about $1 million in tax breaks and outright grants. 

The expansion, due to be completed in late 2022, will cost approximately $18.8 million in total and is expected to also receive assistance from the City of Rochester, Monroe County, and Greater Rochester Enterprise. 

“This expansion is an integral part of our strategic plans and will continue to support the growth we’ve been experiencing over the last five years,” said Zweigle’s CEO Julie Camardo. “We’re proud to not only keep our facilities in Rochester, but also to aid the poverty initiative by adding new employment opportunities for our neighbors here in the city,” A portion of the state assistance will be directed to hiring 12 people in poverty. 

“The support we’ve received from the state, county, and city will help us expand our new product offerings, like Mama Camardo’s meatballs, experiment with exciting food trends like meatless meat options, and continue to produce quality, local products as we have been doing for the last 139 years,” Camardo said. 

Empire State Development announced on Monday that it would support expansion of the Plymouth Avenue facility, helping the company meet the growing demand outside of New York for private-label and co-packing business. The company’s products include chicken sausage. classic sausage, deli meats, grilled chicken, meatballs and natural casing and skinless hot dogs.

 “Thanks to state investment, this family-owned business will ramp up operations in Rochester, continue to create jobs and opportunity for the most vulnerable in society, and strengthen the regional economy,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

Zweigle’s was established in 1880, and is now being run by the founder’s great-great granddaughter. The expansion will involve acquiring property, demolishing buildings, making renovations, new construction and buying machinery and equipment.  

“Zweigle’s is an incredibly important part of Rochester’s rich history and its future,” said Robert Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. “An exciting component of today’s announcement is that the company, one of the city’s oldest employers, has committed to hiring people impacted by poverty-something that truly is at the heart of the regionally designed Finger Lakes Forward (Upstate Revitalization Initiative) strategic plan.”

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275

ROC Tech Conference highlights our region’s technology talent

web-sig_robert-duffy_Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with member Innovative Solutions to present the third annual ROC Tech Conference Sept. 12 at the Riverside Convention Center. The ROC Tech Conference is a full-day event featuring speakers from across the region and panel discussions on a wide range of technology-related topics.

The Rochester and Finger Lakes region is a technology hub. We have so much talent in the incredibly bright and gifted students from our 19 colleges and universities. We also have a huge number of technology leaders who have strengthened existing companies or created new, exciting startups that are now helping to drive the economy. Our region is in the midst of an economic transformation. While we still have great respect for our legacy companies, one of the main pillars of the future includes the emerging technology and digital space. Our goal is to publicize it, nurture it and help it grow. The ROC Tech Conference can serve as a catalyst for this.

The conference features presentations on cloud technology, migrating through a digital transformation, legal compliance in a digital age, augmented and virtual reality, digital marketing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, application development, delivering great experiences in technology, and how AI can drive the human experience. Panel discussions will focus on finding, hiring and retaining elite technology talent and a conversation with a new generation of technology thought leaders. The keynote speaker to wrap up the ROC Tech Conference, Ben Nemtin, takes a look at the emotional experience. Nemtin is a star of the MTV show “The Buried Life” and author of the best-selling book, “What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?”

While there is no doubt in my mind that Rochester is a technology hotspot, we unfortunately are not well known for this outside of our region. A group of prominent technology leaders recently held a meeting to help educate others about where our region is and where it is going on the tech front. The meeting confirmed that our area has an array of great efforts, programs and companies thriving, but those stories do not get widely shared to gain Rochester a national reputation in technology.

One of the industries that I have always been fascinated by, which does have a great national reputation, is the Finger Lakes wine industry. Wineries and vintners here compete in the marketplace but demonstrate fantastic collaboration behind the scenes to support each other. If one winery has a problem, others pitch in to help it keep moving forward. That type of collaboration has led to the Finger Lakes being named the best wine region in the country by USA Today. That type of collaboration is an example of what we are now seeing happen in the technology sector.

While our tech leaders may compete in the marketplace, they are taking several steps to come together and create a roadmap to capitalize on the assets we have here, create a strong economy and gain that richly deserved national reputation. One way being worked on right now includes leveraging alumni networks across the country. Many graduates of our local colleges and universities either own, lead or hold significant positions in some of our nation’s top-level technology companies.

Our region must also create a cohesive, single message that we can consistently share to bring Rochester to the forefront of these conversations both nationally and internationally. There is work going on now behind the scenes supporting such an effort. I expect that to take shape in the coming months. While marketing is a part of it, efforts like the ROC Tech Conference and the recent Light and Sound Interactive event can also help put us on the map.

For me, the big takeaways from the ROC Tech Conference are cultivating relationships and sharing information. You can go and learn something that makes you, your team and your company better. I also believe it will inspire young people through currently established role models to explore becoming highly skilled tech professionals or even owning a tech company.

Technology touches every aspect of our lives. Whether or not you work for a technology company or in that space in another industry, I urge you to attend the ROC Tech Conference on Sept. 12. You will not be disappointed. This is a chance to learn and create a network that could help your company or your own personal or professional development. To learn more or to register, visit

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


Making Rochester a viable place for career development, across the board

web-sig_robert-duffy_Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has gotten intensely involved in our region’s economic development initiatives over the past year. This is in addition to our core offerings of business advocacy, professional development, networking, promotion, human resources, and background screening and placement services. Rochester Chamber now also has a focus on a talent strategy to include retention and attraction of workers for our region’s employers.

The need for talent is one of the main challenges that our region has identified in recruiting businesses or keeping businesses already here alive and thriving. Rochester Chamber member companies have told me that they often consider moving out of state to find the talent they need. It is our job to prevent that outmigration by preparing a workforce for now and the future.

The Rochester and Finger Lakes region has immense talent thanks to its 19 colleges and universities and outstanding legacy employers. On the flip side of that, we have one of the highest levels of poverty in the nation and countless job openings that employers struggle to fill.

The new chapter in Rochester Chamber’s talent strategy mission has included a series of meetings with stakeholders including company CEOs, college placement officers, human resource leaders, new and emerging business leaders, workforce development professionals, and others focused on the future of work. These meetings explore the talent recruiting and retention priorities and challenges of today and what we can expect five and 10 years down the road.

So far, early in this process, we have heard common themes among our stakeholders. While our region has several internship and co-op programs, there has not been a formal collaborative effort to bring all the talent of our colleges and universities together to focus on nurturing relationships between students and employers well before graduation. Our group is now working on programs that connect students to Rochester through both social and business interactions starting in their freshman year.

We want students, as they graduate, to see Rochester as a very viable place to start and maintain a career. Many of our college graduates are drawn to the east and west coasts for jobs at companies with great name prestige—only to find out the cost of living is astronomical. What may appear to be a rather substantial starting salary in the Silicon Valley does not go very far compared to the quality of life a that job with even half that west coast salary can bring in the much more affordable Finger Lakes region.

Another challenge that our meetings has uncovered is competitiveness among employers in the Rochester area and beyond for existing workers. Some may call it job-hopping. Through professional networks, talent migrates from company to company and even out of the state looking for enhanced opportunities. This is not a criticism of those looking to improve their situation. This is a call for employers to place a greater emphasis on retention, especially of our younger professionals and the next generation of business leaders.

We have also met with what is known as incumbent workers, men and women who are underemployed, some with backgrounds that include incarceration or dropping out of school. This is a population that we cannot ignore. The stigma of incarceration and undereducation as well as transportation and childcare issues pose immense challenges for this group of workers. We have listened very carefully to their concerns and have already identified proposed system changes that we plan to roll out to the public soon. These men and women want to work and better themselves, but do not want to be stuck in an entry-level job without an opportunity for a fulfilling career to provide for their families.

Going back to my career in law enforcement, I believe that once someone leaves jail or prison, they have paid their debt to society. They should not have to keep paying that debt repeatedly by being impeded in gaining employment if they are qualified and willing to work. Employers must get on board with this.

If we are going to reduce poverty, we are not going to do it with forums, discussions and meetings. We are going to do it with concrete action and commitment. Our group also calls upon the New York State Department of Education to review primary school curricula to include the instruction of basic skills to foster success in any workplace as early as fourth grade.

Another area under review is building our skilled trades workforce through career and technical education. Workers in this area are aging, and there does not appear to be an influx of young talent in the pipeline interested in construction, machining and other necessary trades. These jobs offer great opportunities for lifetime employment with strong wages and benefits. Far too often, young people are steered toward college by parents or guidance counselors when the trades path may best suit them. The negative perceptions of these jobs, which have evolved into something high-tech and exciting, keep kids from pursing them.

The sweet spot for economic development in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region is not only recruiting new companies, but also retaining companies that are here and helping them grow and prosper. We do that through workforce development. Talent strategy is critically important for the region’s economic future. The time has come for enhanced collaboration across the board on creating the best steps and metrics for success. We welcome your support, ideas and suggestions to make it happen.

Much discussion must take place regarding cannabis legalization

web-sig_robert-duffy_Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce was pleased to recently partner with Flower City Solutions to plan and host “CannaBusiness: Capitalizing on the Cannabis Economy,” an event that opened a community conversation on the emerging marijuana and hemp industries. While Rochester Chamber has not taken a position, we felt that now is the time to have these discussions with stakeholders representing many sides of the issue as the New York State Legislature considers the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana.

CannaBusiness keynote speakers included New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who discussed the potential community impact of legalized marijuana; Consulate General of Canada in New York Deputy Consul General Khawar Nasim, who covered his country’s exploration of health and safety while making the decision to legalize cannabis nationwide; and Constellation Brands EVP and General Counsel Jim Bourdeau, who shared the business potential of cannabis. Constellation Brands, a leading global beverage alcohol producer, is exploring cannabis-infused products with its recent investment in Canadian cannabis producer Canopy.

Panel discussions at CannaBusiness included experts in legalization, regulation and compliance; social justice and law enforcement; business, innovation and AgTech; and health and medicine.

For a full recap of the CannaBusiness event, visit

Rochester Chamber feels a sense of responsibility to engage thought leaders on issues such as this that have wide-ranging potential economic benefits, as well negative impacts and unintended consequences. The issue of hemp and marijuana legalization is certainly not without controversy, and that is exactly why we felt compelled to bring together many voices for this discussion. I attended a gathering of government and business leaders in the early 1990s where a prominent, hall of fame, Rochester businessperson commented that New York State should legalize marijuana, regulate it and tax it. Many in attendance chuckled at the thought, but those words are now prophetic more than two decades later.

Both houses of the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are having intense conversations on legalizing marijuana. While I have no inside information on the topic, I can say that one of our CannaBusiness panelists, Axel Bernabe, counsel to Gov. Cuomo, had an excellent depth of knowledge on the topic. It is clear that Albany is doing its homework to get this right when it happens. I do believe that legalized marijuana in New York is a when, not an if. Bernabe said that once any legislation passes, it would likely be 18 months before any clear, specific and tough regulations are implemented. My sense is that it will be a strict process where dispensaries or stores will be licensed by the state to sell cannabis products and then closely monitored.

Our CannaBusiness law enforcement and social justice panelists had very disparate views at the beginning, but the sides came together as they listened to and respected one another’s concerns. From my career in law enforcement, I am acutely aware that the drug trade fuels violence in our neighborhoods by way of competition and turf wars. Legalization may be an avenue to remove some of that underground economy and its related issues. The social justice side was concerned about expunging criminal records of certain marijuana-related offenses and reinforcing the data that shows communities of color are more impacted by marijuana arrests and convictions. When marijuana is legalized, we must look at creating a greater sense of equity and opportunity for these communities, which have been most affected in the past.

Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes commented that we must explore economic opportunities for those involved in the illegal trade as part of legalization. I can say from personal experience that a young drug dealer on the street corner likely does not have the skills to run a highly regulated business. We should think through ways to bring workforce development and training to those underserved communities to find success.

The CannaBusiness health and medicine panel was fascinating because it put forth different views from a group of medical professionals. Some were against legalization, while others touted its potential benefits. The most compelling issue that arose from that panel is the lack of research that the medical community can do on marijuana. This is mainly related to the fear of institutions losing federal funding because cannabis is illegal federally. The legalization of marijuana in New York State may be able to crack open that research door in some way.

On the business end, New York State is a jewel of agriculture ready to take on the challenge of increased demand of both recreational marijuana and CBD oil. I’m not sure if it’s a miracle cure or snake oil, but CBD is an $875 million market in the United States and is projected to grow into $25 billion over the next five years. We must have these discussions now in order to take advantage of innovation in this field and the economic benefits it can bring. Rochester Chamber is passionately supportive of helping businesses start and grow here. Cannabis can be the next driver in our economic evolution.

I was overwhelmed by the positive responses that Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce received from all levels related to our CannaBusiness event. We had to have this conversation, which came at the most opportune moment as the state deliberates the fate of legalized marijuana. The opinions expressed at CannaBusiness will play a role in the final decision, as several lawmakers and representatives of the governor’s office attended the event to learn more.

Again, Rochester Chamber is pleased to be a convener of many sides of this issue and we expect this community conversation to continue at future events. We are in the midst of great change in New York state. We can’t bury our heads and ignore this issue. The most important thing we can do is to have these critical discussions now, so the state enacts the best policy possible.

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


Area festivals and events urged to take ‘buy local’ to the next level

web-sig_robert-duffy_Since having the good fortune of becoming Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce president and CEO at the beginning of 2015, my team and I have supported the concept “ABC: Always Buy Chamber.” The spirit of the slogan is meant to build our economy by strengthening relationships among Rochester Chamber members and businesses across the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. We gain success and prosperity by patronizing the businesses that are here before turning outside the region or state.

When I served as Rochester mayor, I considered it “cheating” whenever I found myself making purchases outside of the city. I was committed to supporting Rochester businesses. In that same vein, I am now committed to, and urge others to commit to looking at home first before making buying decisions elsewhere. That goes from personal purchases to major corporate expenditures.

Somewhere in between lies a situation brought to my attention during a recent visit to Rochester Chamber member Three Brothers Wineries and Estates. Three Brothers owner David Mansfield has invested millions of dollars of his family’s money to help make a fantastic enterprise successful. David and his wife Luanne employ more than 100 people at the winery and brewery and invest in local vendors, making Three Brothers an important driver in the Ontario County economy. As Rochester Chamber staff members and I toured the facility discussing how we can support Three Brothers and other wineries in the region, David pointed out that many major Rochester-area events, festivals and tourist attractions do not feature Finger Lakes wine and craft beverages. I realized that Rochester Chamber is on that list when looking at our own events. That is going to change.

I came away from our visit with a message to reinforce the “ABC” mentality and encourage others to keep Finger Lakes food and beverage top of mind when planning events. One of our biggest challenges is investing in local companies that support families, philanthropy, and a host of other great things in our regional economy.

The Finger Lakes region is one of the most beautiful in the world and many of its wines have achieved international acclaim. To highlight this, David Mansfield suggested that major events, festivals and venues across the region feature a “Taste of New York” area to help promote Finger Lakes wine, craft beverages and foods.

I do understand that many of our region’s major festivals and events have contractual food and beverage obligations and sponsorships that restrict outside branded products from being sold. I believe that these events and venues can work to strike compromises to create a limited space to highlight Finger Lakes products without diminishing the brands under contract. This can be a celebration within a celebration of what many talented business people produce right here at home.

I have always been impressed by companies like Wegmans and LiDestri Food and Drink that create relationships with local food and beverage producers. They quietly support so many families, farmers and small businesses. Local events, festivals and venues can also add a level of support to this sector of our economy. Food, beverage and agriculture are not only one of our region’s economic pillars, but also key innovation sectors. The Finger Lakes region is an epicenter for agriculture, food production, food processing, packaging, and distribution. Let’s expand this and look for ways to highlight what we are producing.

The Finger Lakes wine industry is one of the largest drivers of tourism in our region. You see visitors coming in by bus, limousine and car to explore what our wineries, craft breweries, cideries, and distilleries have to offer. The multi-billion-dollar Finger Lakes tourism industry creates jobs and a vibrant economic ecosystem. As strong as this area is, I believe we have room to grow. I take this opportunity not to criticize festival and event organizers and major venue managers who haven’t featured Finger Lakes products, but to encourage them to explore ways to promote our region’s own products and tourist attractions that draw people from around the world. While supporting our economy, this promotion can also be a way to foster great pride in our region.

Every time someone buys a local product or visits our community and stays in a hotel or patronizes a winery or restaurant, they are helping to create and support jobs. We should never lose sight of that. The responsibility to promote this region does not fall squarely on Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Visit Rochester, the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection or other organizations. It is up to all of us.

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


In wake of recent lawsuits, businesses should review their websites for accessibility

web-sig_robert-duffy_Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Disability Rights have partnered to raise awareness of a recent rash of lawsuits targeting businesses over accessibility of their websites. These actions, brought by a small number of plaintiffs in the New York City area, have recently focused on wineries and other small businesses, seeking five-figure settlements without regard to addressing the larger issue of educating the public about accessibility compliance.

Rochester Chamber believes that education and information go further than threats and intimidation in ensuring website access for the visually impaired and others with disabilities. Efforts should be directed toward resolving the underlying barriers to access rather than looking to make a quick buck. We encourage businesses to check the accessibility of their websites and make appropriate changes if necessary.

If a business finds itself the target of a lawsuit, we recommend seeking legal counsel rather than rushing to settle. Rochester Chamber is working with its counterparts to advocate fair and effective ways to promote accessible websites while not costing small businesses tens of thousands of dollars in settlements and legal fees.

I applaud Center for Disability Rights President and CEO Bruce Darling for his tenacity in fighting for accessibility for all. In the case of these lawsuits, Darling agrees that more is at stake than just ensuring website accessibility compliance.

“The Center for Disability Rights is committed to making our communities more accessible and inclusive, and to enforcing disability rights laws,” Darling said. “However, we do not support disingenuous lawsuits alleging inaccessibility which result in settlements that do not address the underlying accessibility issues. We are proud to work with Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce to educate businesses about accessibility and to help businesses to become compliant.”

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” The definition of “discrimination” under the statute incorporates a requirement that reasonable accommodations and auxiliary aids or services be provided to individuals with disabilities.

Nixon Peabody LLP attorneys in Rochester and across its other offices have assisted clients in responding to demand letters and litigation related to alleged ADA and state law violations of website accessibility. The law firm formulates responses based on a client’s specific circumstances and applicable defenses.

“While the ADA does not expressly define a commercial website as a place of public accommodation, numerous courts have held that a website is a place of public accommodation because websites provide the public access to a company’s goods or services,” said Nixon Peabody Counsel Todd Shinaman. “While some courts have held that Title III’s accessibility requirements do not apply to websites that have no nexus to a physical place of accommodation, such as a brick and mortar store, several federal district courts in the Second Circuit, which includes New York, have refused to dismiss Title III cases on that basis.”

Fox Run Vineyards added an accessibility statement and started to make compliance changes to its website when owners first learned about ADA-related lawsuits in November 2018. In February of this year, a lawsuit was brought against Fox Run for non-compliance. That’s when Fox Run brought the issue to Rochester Chamber’s attention.

“We should educate when we regulate,” said Fox Run Vineyards President and Co-owner Scott Osborn. “A lawsuit is the wrong way to go about it. In my opinion, before suing my company, I believe I should have been sent a letter describing in detail all the ways my site was not in compliance and instructions on how to get my site functional. That would have been the fair and proper thing to do and would have caused us to act. We are now working on a brand-new website and hope to be compliant soon.”


Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is working with the Center for Disability Rights, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, and other advocacy partners to combat abusive ADA lawsuits while also educating business owners about the importance of website compliance and informing lawmakers about the lack of clarity in the law.

“This important civil rights law, meant to ensure access for all, is being exploited by predatory lawyers to generate fees,” said Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York Public Affairs Manager Adam Morey. “All that money wasted on court costs and attorney’s fees would be better spent upgrading websites and finalizing industry standards. There need to be clear guidelines for how the ADA applies to the Internet. As it stands now, businesses and nonprofit institutions of all sizes can be sued without any real notice of how they are supposed to comply with the law. It is time for public officials to clarify how the law applies to the Internet and guide businesses to compliance.”

Businesses with questions about website ADA accessibility may contact the Center for Disability Rights at or their own website designers. Those who wish to join Rochester Chamber advocacy efforts may contact Marc Cohen at [email protected].

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



Education an important economic driver that benefits Rochester region

web-sig_robert-duffy_From a business and economic perspective, one of the most overlooked assets in our region is education. I recently had the honor of attending an A Community Together (ACT) for Education meeting with retired West Irondequoit Central School District Superintendent Jeff Crane and many of his colleagues. ACT for Education is an initiative by public schools in the Monroe and Orleans BOCES districts, Rochester City School District, businesses and community members aimed at garnering community support of public education.

At the meeting, I learned that public education is the No. 2 employer in our region. This made me think about how many jobs are attached to education and how many families and other businesses are supported by it.

Every year, we hear about school taxes, funding and academic outcomes, but we often forget the economic impact that our education community has on the Rochester region. From superintendents to principals to guidance counselors to teachers to teachers’ aides to support staff, the jobs created by education bring a significant economic impact. As a former mayor, I can attest that every dollar that comes into our community through salaries or other means circulates four to seven times through spending on housing, transportation, food, clothing, entertainment and much more.

When all of us are faced with school budget decisions or funding decisions coming in from local districts, Albany or Washington, keep in mind that the money is not just supporting our children, it is supporting so many of our region’s parents, neighbors, friends and businesses. That said, I am a firm proponent of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to make permanent New York State’s two percent property tax cap. Fiscal responsibility is crucial, as is ensuring that we don’t price residents out of their homes and working to make Upstate New York an attractive place to live for young people and families. New York is at the forefront of the nation in education investment and will continue working to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to cultivate the minds of our future leaders.

Despite the disappointing performance of the Rochester City School District, we have some of the best-rated high schools in the nation right here in our region. By and large, these systems do a tremendous job educating our children and preparing them for the future. They also provide great support for workforce development and multiple pathways to work which help reduce poverty. BOCES is also an often-overlooked asset in our community, preparing not only young students, but also adult learners for the jobs of now and the future.

In one year alone, our area’s public schools have also raised more than a half million dollars for local charities, served more than 100,000 hours of volunteerism, and collected more than 80,000 items for food banks and clothing drives. So beyond just jobs and economic impact, public schools also bring a sense of social responsibility to our community. I applaud the leadership of schools in our region for the work they do in helping shape our children into the young leaders of our future.

I also want to reinforce the value of higher education. The University of Rochester is the largest employer in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. U of R, along with the 18 other higher education institutions here, make up an economic powerhouse for our community. Many of our colleges and universities draw students and faculty from outside the state and outside the country, which brings in even more revenue to the region. It also exposes those from elsewhere to potential lifelong relationships and the amazing quality of life in our region, potentially keeping them and their spending power here for the long term.

Yes, many students leave school mired in debt. As a parent, I fully understand the financial challenges of going to college. Schools and government programs are working to mitigate student debt through scholarships, financial aid and grant programs, but I contend that the earning potential of a degree in many cases is worth the investment in higher education. For those averse to accumulating that type of debt or not interested in college, there are many career and technical programs available to put people on a path to much-needed and well-paying jobs.

As a trustee for the State University of New York, I have seen firsthand the positive impact higher education has, and can have, on the economic health of communities. Our region’s 19 colleges and universities drive billions of dollars into the Finger Lakes every year, provide a strong pipeline of talent, and serve as hubs for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is always honored to highlight the contributions of businesses and business leaders in our community. I am now pleased to reinforce the value of education in terms of what it brings to our economy. My sincere gratitude goes out to our educational institutions for what they do for not just our children, but for all of us every day.

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

Rochester Chamber revamps programs, events

web-sig_robert-duffy_Early in this 2019, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is reflecting on the past while planning strategically for the future. A great deal has changed here since the Industrial Management Council merger with the Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce formed the Rochester Business Alliance in 2003 and then our organization’s subsequent rebranding to Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce a few years ago. It is no secret that chambers of commerce, associations and other membership organizations now face severe challenges because of economic circumstances and changing preferences of our young professionals and next generation leaders.

I fully understand when Rochester Chamber members ask about their return on investment in our organization. We work vigorously with members at every level to give them a clear sense of the value we provide in helping them and our region grow and prosper. Business leaders created the original Rochester Chamber of Commerce in 1887 to support and advocate for business and the city, spark economic growth and connect members with customers and each other. That mission hasn’t changed drastically in more than 130 years.

What has changed to some degree are the reasons why businesses join and maintain their Rochester Chamber memberships and how we work to serve them. Some members believe it is their duty to support what we do and the common good regardless of how active they are in our organization. Other members join to access specific services that they believe will most benefit their business. All members are equally important in carrying out our mission. Today, every business, from small to large, examines every dollar they invest just as we do.

One lesson that we have learned is that trends and tastes and needs are in a constant state of change. What succeeded for us and our members in prior decades will not sustain us moving forward. It is incumbent upon us to remain nimble and innovative to support our businesses based upon their changing needs. “Innovate or die” is not just a catchphrase; it is our reality. Rochester Chamber has brought on some young, new staff members with fresh, diverse views on how to succeed as an organization, remain innovative and appeal to a new generation. Our current blend of new and veteran talent will help us map out the best path forward for the future. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and our organizational culture is rapidly changing for the better.

One innovative program that we introduced last year is Chamber Leadership Initiative: Mentoring for Business, or CLIMB. This experiential mentorship program brings together a group of young professionals from a cross-section of industries over 10 months, learning from some of our region’s top business and community leaders. Through CLIMB, our next generation leaders achieve a better understanding of how they can be a part of the Rochester and Finger Lakes region’s future success. Having met these intelligent, committed and passionate young CLIMB leaders, I am confident in that success.

Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has also totally revamped its events and programming to meet the needs and requests of our membership. Our signature events, the Rochester Chamber Top 100 and the ATHENA International Awards programs, have become two of the biggest business gatherings in our region. By changing them from lunches to dinners, the Top 100 and ATHENA ceremonies now have a more celebratory atmosphere to properly recognize the great work of our region’s fastest-growing privately owned companies and outstanding women leaders.

While we do still have the occasional social gathering, Rochester Chamber has transformed its networking events to include programming, information and experiences designed to benefit businesses of any size and business people of any standing. These include our bizExchange Professional Development series, Rochester TRENDS Featured Speaker series, Chamber Business Rounds executive perspectives panel discussions, human resources and economic development forums, Chamber Counsel legal insights series, Policy Matters advocacy events, Chamber IMPACT community service and volunteerism program, SPOTlight Tours of member companies, and more. We are also currently doing a full review of our technology in order to stay current and prepare for what’s to come.

Rochester Chamber also serves members through direct support. Every time we visit or interact with a member we ask, “what is your biggest challenge and how can we help?” Whether the answer is gaining business, reducing taxes and regulations, workforce development and talent management, or something we would have never anticipated, we advocate very strongly through letters, calls, and meetings to connect members with the resources they need. Part of our advocacy also includes “ABC: Always Buy Chamber.” One of our clearest paths forward is to support each other.

Before you do business with a company out of the region or out of the state or country, keep in mind your nearby neighbors. Often, they can provide what you need better, faster, and cheaper. We sometimes lose sight of the importance of supporting each other. We all succeed when we put our neighbors first. Rochester Chamber can be your go-to resource to make those connections. In today’s environment, relationships matter. We are proud of our strong relationships with all levels of government and our regional economic development partners including Greater Rochester Enterprise, Empire State Development, the City of Rochester, Monroe County, and regional IDAs. We cannot accomplish anything worthwhile without these relationships.

As Rochester Chamber goes through a critical self-evaluation and makes key investments inside, our voice of business can only get stronger as our outside membership grows. For our service and advocacy efforts to be most effective, we must have the representation of businesses from across all sectors of our economy. If your organization is a Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce member, get actively involved. If not, explore membership and see how we—or you—can help. Visit to learn more. We would love to have you join our family.

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


Incentives are an important part of business today

web-sig_robert-duffy_I have a difficult time understanding the controversy surrounding New York State tax incentives that led Amazon to locate half of its East Coast HQ2 facility in Long Island City. I expect this development to create 25,000 jobs and have an incredibly positive economic impact over the next decade and more.  New York State and New York City combined to offer incentives to Amazon that pale in comparison to other cities and states that tried to lure HQ2.

New Jersey and Columbus, Ohio each offered up several billion dollars each to try to land Amazon.  Those offers, much more generous than New York State’s, did not make the final cut. I applaud Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio for their work in landing Amazon in New York City. They were able to do it without giving the store away and against immense competition.

Some people have expressed concern about what they term as “corporate welfare.”  It is not corporate welfare; it is the economy and how things work in it today. The economic development process has evolved into a hyper-competitive situation in recent years for all cities and states. If communities refuse to offer incentives to compete, they are not even in the game to recruit companies like Amazon.

I have seen an expected return on investment of nine to one in New York State’s favor over the years of proposed incentives.  A big point to keep in mind is that when New York State offers tax credits as corporate incentives, those companies do not see a dollar until the jobs they promise are created.  This is not cash up front.  This is money that businesses earn after putting people to work. If businesses that get incentives do not deliver on promised job creation, there are clawback provisions in place as safeguards.

I was pleased to be involved in the process of Rochester and Buffalo combining to make an HQ2 pitch.  At the time, New York State did not share details about its incentive package, we were assured they would be the same across the state.  Although Amazon passed on our application, the process of creating it has made our region more attractive for future recruiting efforts by helping us identify our strengths and where we can do better.   It is now clear that Amazon had larger metros in mind by choosing two of our country’s capital cities: The financial capital of New York and our nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. with the selection of Crystal City, Virginia.

While I am happy for our downstate neighbor’s success in recruiting Amazon, I personally wish we had that investment here in Rochester.  The overall economic impact is projected to be more than 27 billion dollars for New York City and New York State.  That is money that will go toward transit, schools, infrastructure, and more. That also includes the 25,000 workers that will be spending money on food, clothes, cars, homes and entertainment.

In my careers as Rochester mayor, New York State lieutenant governor, and now Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, I know firsthand that there are economic development recruiters in our backyard every day offering incentives to lure our local employers out of the state.  While visiting Rochester Chamber members, I have heard stories of companies constantly getting cold-called with incentives to move to other states. If we don’t take steps to keep them here, they leave.

Those who criticize incentives to recruit and retain businesses will also criticize when those regions or cities shrink or lose jobs because of a lack of investment or a lack of aggressive competition. Keeping our companies here and growing is paramount, but when you have a chance to attract a company like Amazon and its transformational economic impact, it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity. It’s hard for me to fathom that in a day and age when we are competing for jobs and investment why we would quarrel over this. I’m sure some of the criticism is purely politics, while some is a misunderstanding of the process.

Moving forward, our focus must be on retaining and growing current businesses and preparing for the “innovation economy.” One thing that we are learning is that our current economic development process is not conducive to this new and emerging economy. Many of the incentives we see now go to bricks-and-mortar for job creation. We must change that.  Our economy now grows from young minds with ideas or concepts that can go from one to 400 employees in a short time span with the right backing. This is happening now in our region and across the country. Creating an environment for them is the most important thing we can do for our future success.

While criticizing state incentives during election season and beyond is now in vogue, we should take a step back, give it some time, and see what these investments bring. I believe the economic boost is going to be profound across the state as New York landed Amazon at a bargain compared to what others offered.

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

Rochester Chamber Top 100 Awards celebrate our local businesses

web-sig_robert-duffy_Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce recently celebrated its 32nd annual Rochester Chamber Top 100 Awards, recognizing our region’s fastest-growing, privately held companies. The Rochester Chamber Top 100 is the biggest business event of the year in our area, and it gets better and better each time. This marked my fourth Top 100 celebration as Rochester Chamber CEO, and I was blown away by how it has become much more than just another awards dinner. It is a now an all-out party, the likes of which I have never seen in my history in Rochester. Noisemakers and costumes dotted the crowd of more than 1,800 people, making for a lively, electric atmosphere.

This celebration of success and hard work is a great reflection of where the Rochester and Finger Lakes region’s economy is headed. This year’s Rochester Chamber Top 100 companies combined for more than $12 billion in revenue and employed 23,000 people in our region. We don’t celebrate this type of business success enough. The Rochester Chamber Top 100 celebrates small, medium and large companies that are on upward trajectories.

The Rochester Chamber Top 100 Awards program is based upon both dollar and percentage revenue growth, so companies of all sizes can fairly compete against one another. I have heard criticism from some about the process; I believe the process is fair and creates an even playing field for all eligible businesses that apply. Rochester Chamber is not directly involved in determining the ratings. Our partner, KPMG, handles the data analysis and rankings independently.

Because we don’t recruit a large number of businesses to our region, it is important to help those that are already here to grow, prosper—and remain. Imagine if these Top 100 companies were not here. Recruiters are in our backyard every day looking to move businesses outside of our region and state.

I join my Rochester Chamber teammates every week visiting companies across the region. We hear time and again that other states are cold calling, visiting and making offers. We are in a battle to keep what we have. While we may not see the success we would like in recruiting, we must put a premium on retaining and supporting business here by eliminating barriers and looking inside our region first for suppliers and vendors. If we support each other, we will see that prosperity.

The Rochester Chamber Top 100 is not only a great display of success, it is also one of our region’s most outstanding networking events. In that room are companies that can collaborate and potentially support each other while growing together. You don’t get that kind of networking opportunity everywhere. I go to countless events every year and none compare to the Rochester Chamber Top 100 as both a celebration and a business opportunity. This event gives us a chance every year to do that kind of team building.

Many of the business owners and executives at the celebration have placed their life savings on the line and sacrificed both money and time with family to find success. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude for taking a chance on their dream and bringing wealth and employment to our area.

One shining example of that is this year’s Rochester Chamber Top 100 number one company, Avani Technology Solutions. Founder and CEO Sameer Penakalapati left Kodak and invested his $100,000 in life savings to start Avani. Ten years later, his company stands atop the Top 100. I visited Avani with the Rochester Chamber team a few years ago. Sameer showed us his revenue charts and the upward line looked like Mt. Everest. At the time, I thought this company was on the move and that has proven true.

I now look at the wealth that Avani has created for its employees and supply chain, as well as the wealth created by the other 99 Rochester Chamber Top 100 companies. Every company has its own inspirational story to tell. Again, we must celebrate this success.

Where would we be without our business leaders and their impact on our community? A lasting impact is the legacy of George Eastman. At the Rochester Chamber Top 100 event, we also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the United Way of Greater Rochester, started by Eastman as the Community Chest. Businesses and the people employed by them have shared their wealth with the United Way and helped it bring a century of success to those in need. This type of philanthropy is not possible without a strong business community.

Speaking of philanthropy, we also presented the Rochester Chamber Top 100 Lifetime Achievement Award to Rochester business legend John “Dutch” Summers. By creating companies and jobs here at home and around the world, Dutch has made a profound impact from which other business leaders can learn.

While many people know about Dutch’s business success, many don’t know what he does behind the scenes. Dutch has paid for people’s medical expenses anonymously, funded college educations anonymously, and has financially supported countless people in need anonymously. Dutch does not seek recognition or credit for what he has done. The Lifetime Achievement Award was a fitting tribute at our region’s biggest business event of the year.

In closing, I believe that we can make the Rochester Chamber Top 100 Awards celebration bigger, better and more impactful. Nominations for the 2019 awards open in February. Let’s generate another record number of nominations next year and fill the convention center with more than 2,000 people celebrating our business community’s accomplishments. Visit to learn more about the program.

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


The business world and its leaders deserve much praise

web-sig_robert-duffy_I recently had the honor of attending The Business Council of New York State’s annual meeting where Duke and Columbia public policy professor and retired IBM Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Stan Litow received the Corning Award. This prestigious award goes to an individual who best demonstrates an outstanding level of accomplishment in their chosen discipline, as well as a deep and sustaining commitment to the people of New York. Stan is also author of a book, “The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward.”

Stan’s brief remarks while accepting the award inspired me. He said that in today’s world, business is denigrated by the media and in politics as being a problem in our society. However, in reality, business is something that we should all be very proud of. When I say business here, that also means all non-governmental employers—including higher education and not-for-profits.

My big takeaway from Stan’s remarks is that business rarely gets the credit it deserves for doing so much good in our nation. Stan went back in history to plot out the positives that business has achieved: starting the healthcare system, implementing a five-day work week and paid time off, providing comfortable livings for families, and having an unparalleled role in philanthropy and community involvement.

We do not praise the business world enough. We let others dictate public perception. In Rochester, one only must look at George Eastman’s legacy which is still very much alive. While Kodak is not now what it once was, where would Rochester be had the company not started here? George Eastman has touched almost every aspect of what we enjoy here today including many of our companies, education, arts and culture, philanthropy, and so much more. Moving forward to today, we see business icons like the Wegman family, the Sands family of Constellation Brands, Paychex founder Tom Golisano, the Gleason family and too many others to name here.

There is one example after another of the great things that business leaders have done for Rochester and the Finger Lakes region. They have created jobs that generate wealth in many ways for their employees while also lifting people out of poverty. They have created economic prosperity. They have educated children and supported our colleges and universities.  Without them, we would not enjoy the quality of life that we have today.

So, why do we allow some with loud voices to disparage business? In our society, when one organization makes a mistake, many tend to paint others with a wide brush. Yes, there are some businesses that are not as responsible or ethical as they should be. Every single profession has its failures. But when you look at the success of business in our region and across the country, I am so thankful for what they bring to the table.

The notion that all business leaders are “one percenters” detached from the reality of everyday people is certainly mistaken. More than 80 percent of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce membership is small business. My staff and I visit Rochester Chamber members on a regular basis and I can tell you first-hand that they truly care about their employees. They do everything they can to make for a better workplace.

I have talked with employers that have refused to lay off workers during tough economic times and took a financial hit because they did not want to impact the lives of their employees. Our visits show us that companies treat their people like families. Business is not this nameless, faceless entity. It is your neighbor. It is your friend. In many cases, it is your family away from home. Companies want happy, successful employees and create programs to make that happen.

One important lesson that I learned in my career is that government cannot affect the marketplace. The marketplace defines what happens with the economy. When government intervenes, businesses react. I’ll use minimum wage as an example. When government mandates a higher minimum wage, however people feel about that, businesses will respond if they can’t afford it. They will hire fewer workers and embrace automation. Sometimes businesses are criticized for making very difficult decisions to reduce their workforce when they are just trying to survive.

In closing, I am again so thankful for businesses in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. If they are not respected and supported, they can go elsewhere. Recruiters from out-of-state are in our backyard every day. When a business does leave, it creates headline news. But what about the tens of thousands of businesses that have chosen to stay and create jobs and economic vitality? As Stan Litow said, business is not bad. Business is good.

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