As we begin 2020, there are many exciting things happening on the economic development front in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. While driving from downtown through the suburbs and into the rural countryside, it is easy to see growth happening all around us. This is only just the beginning of much better things to come. Yes, the area does have its challenges, but we are also in the midst of a major transformation poised to carry us to success well into the future.

Thanks to the generosity of business leaders like Constellation Brands Executive Chairman Rob Sands, Wegmans Chairman Danny Wegman, Paychex CEO Marty Mucci, and many others, our region underwent an economic development study that gave us an introspective look at our greatest successes, challenges, and opportunities moving forward. While not uncovering any striking revelations, the study reinforced basic fundamentals that we should improve upon to grow our economy.

Under the new effort known as “ROC2025,” our region’s economic development agencies have come together to develop a strategy based upon the roadmap provided by the recent study. Through ROC2025, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Greater Rochester Enterprise, Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, Visit Rochester, the City of Rochester, Monroe County, and other partners have started to work much more closely together than in the past. I can already sense a culture change because of this renewed and focused collaboration.

The study showed that the challenge of recruiting new businesses to Rochester has yielded mixed results. Rather than focusing on recruiting only, there are two keys to growth: supporting and growing existing businesses in the region and securing a strong supply of talent both in keeping skilled workers here and attracting new workers to fill job openings that can help keep businesses thriving.

Rochester Chamber has accepted the ROC2025 charge to lead the effort’s workforce development and talent strategy piece. We have started to work as a convener of the already successful efforts happening across the region to develop an agile recruitment and retention strategy to manage the needs of a diverse cross-section of workers and employers. At any given time, our region has upwards of 20,000 open jobs. The key to filling them is ensuring that we have the talent pool with the requisite in-demand skills. Workforce development cannot be a stagnant process. It’s an ever-evolving world for employers. As technology and demands in the marketplace change, so too must the way we train and prepare tomorrow’s workers.

In addition to these priorities, we also learned that Rochester has numerous marketing messages and campaigns going on rather than one unified, defining vision, message, and voice that sets us apart in today’s competitive economic development world in the eyes of both internal and external stakeholders. Through a competitive process, ROC2025 chose local marketing and advertising agency Dixon Schwabl to develop that singular message. We expect to roll out a regional marketing plan in the coming months.

The important aspect of this effort is that outside of Rochester and the Finger Lakes region, we have been historically best known as the home of Eastman Kodak. While Kodak still holds an important place in the Rochester of today, we also represent much more than just Kodak or any of our legacy companies. We have a burgeoning technology community, great advanced manufacturing, a wide expanse of successful small and medium-sized companies, as well as 19 colleges and universities that educate and prepare the workforce of today and tomorrow. Creating a galvanizing message is an important piece of the ROC2025 mission’s success.

We are all in sales, regardless of our occupation or position in the community. If we want to recruit and retain talent and companies here now and in the future, the best sales staff is each and every one of us. I encourage everyone to lift up and reinforce the many blessings we have in our region in our daily conversations, social media posts, and other communications. While some in the New York City media may call our region “grim and depressing,” we know better. It’s time for all of us to share our positive messages. Our glass is beyond half full and will only overflow when all of us realize how good we have it here and share the positives with the world.

I have often described Rochester as New York’s best-kept secret. It’s time to share why we love this region more consistently and affirmatively in 2020. If we do this correctly, I believe we will see a growth spurt that we have not seen in decades.

Formerly the mayor of Rochester and the lieutenant governor of New York state, Robert Duffy currently is the president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

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