Economic Development Day 2017

By Mike Lane, Account Executive, Brown & Brown Empire State -The LGS Class of 2017 was given an in-depth look at the past, present and future of economic development in CNY by the experts and entrepreneurs driving it. In speaking with my classmates it was clear this was a day that everyone was very interested in. We all want to live in a thriving community so we can experience success and set the next generation up for even more success. We also want to build an economy that keeps people in the area and attracts people to move here from around the world.

The day started at the SU Warehouse with a presentation from President & CEO of CenterState CEO, Rob Simpson. Rob provided the class with a foundation of the past, present and future of economic development in CNY that the rest of the day’s presenters were able to build up from. The past of economic development in CNY was driven by innovation, but that has fallen off dramatically in the past two decades. In the present, Centerstate CEO has embraced a modern approach to economic development that breaks from some of the traditional methods. They have developed the Tech Garden to drive innovation and entrepreneurship. Rather than providing generic skills training, Centerstate has partnered with its members to provide targeted training for the un/underemployed in the region for jobs that need to be filled right now. For the future, Rob provided excellent insight into three of the most important decisions facing CNY today: Consensus, I-81 rebuild and the inland port.

Rob was followed by a panel discussion on workforce development in CNY. The panel featured Marlena Dahar-Rahman, Associate Director of the Syracuse Education Opportunity Center; Kathy Lent, Coordinator, Adult & Continuing Education of the Syracuse City School District;  Janice Mayne, Director of JOBSPlus!; Laura Miller, General Manager of DARCO Manufacturing; and Dominic Robinson, CenterState CEO, V.P. of Economic Inclusion; Director, Work Train. The panelists were moderated by Juanita Perez-Williams, former Regional Director for the NYS Department of Labor. The panelists provided insight into the challenges of preparing the un/underemployed for the workplace including literacy, transportation and childcare. A theme started to develop for the day around the drain poverty has on economic development. Not only do individuals living in poverty rely on services, but they also are untapped assets that could be driving productivity in the region. The group detailed how they collaborate to prepare these individuals for the jobs that are available right now by reaching out to the business community and discovering what jobs need to be filled. The panel closed by calling the class to action to bring this information back to our respective employers and engage with them on how we can help.

After the panel, the class split into two groups and headed downtown for our $yracuse $troll. One half of the class strolled to the Barclay Damon tower for a tour guided by Heather Schroeder, Economic Development Program Manager of the Downtown Committee and proud LGS grad. This group was given a history of the tower from banking operations as Midland Marine Bank then HSBC branch to the mixed use Tier 1 retail and office space it is today. The tour continued through Barclay Damon’s modern and impressive office space and was highlighted with a visit to their rooftop deck with a spectacular view of CNY!

The other half of the class met Bob Doucette, Esq., Owner, Armory Development & Management, Inc. at the 24-second shot in Armory Square. Bob provided a history of Armory Square from a manufacturing center to the retail, residential commercial mixed-use hub that it is today, which he helped develop. Bob also provided the group with exciting information on projects in the development and planning stages in Armory Square.

The class reunited at The Tech Garden for lunch followed by a presentation from Nikita Jankowski, Communications Director at Visit Syracuse. In its infancy as a city, Syracuse was a thriving tourist location with its proximity to Onondaga Lake. Nikita explained how Syracuse became a hub for business travel, meetings and conventions because of its convenient location in the middle of the state and convergence of Routes 81 and 90 in the city. However, her organization has been gathering data and found that Syracuse has experienced a tourism revival based on a number of factors: proximity to the Adirondacks, brewery and wine trails, Destiny USA and proximity to New York City, to name a few. Her goal for the future of Syracuse is two-fold: embrace our title as snowiest city in the country and attract winter visitors for that reason. Also, we are focusing on international travelers who visit New York City first and want to see what else there is to do while they are in the country. Nikita called on the class to spread the word on all the exciting happenings in Syracuse and do some exploring of our own!

Rick Clonan, V.P. Innovation & Entrepreneurship for CenterState CEO, and proud LGS alum, followed Nikita. Rick runs The Tech Garden, which is sponsored by CenterState CEO, and he expanded on Rob’s comments earlier in the day around CNY’s struggles with supporting and encouraging entrepreneurship. He shared the history of The Tech Garden, including its beginnings from a converted, collapsed parking garage to its success stories including Brand Yourself and Ephesus Lighting. Rick’s goal is to connect entrepreneurs and startups with the manufacturers and investors that can facilitate their ideas into viable businesses. The Tech Garden is largely driven by GeniusNY, their largest accelerator ever. It is the world’s largest business competition for unmanned systems with $2.75 million in funding for 6 finalists. Their first year was 2016 and they had 250 applications, they are expecting twice that in 2017!

Rick’s presentation was followed by a break with a surprise visit from the Gannon’s ice cream cart sponsored by Dairy Farmers of America. Our final presentation at The Tech Garden was a panel on unmanned aerial systems moderated by Jeff Kulikowsky, Senior Reporter at NewsChannel 9. Our panelists were Larry Brinker, Esq., Executive Director, General Counsel at NUAIR, Brady Cass from Gryphon Sensors and Jon Parry, Director of GeniusNY. Unmanned aerial systems, or commercial drones, present a tremendous economic opportunity for CNY, and Larry detailed the circumstances that created this opportunity. CNY has legacy expertise and radar and sensors with Lockheed Martin, Gryphon Sensors and Saab Sensis. The 174th Airborne has been a drone testing facility for the military for decades as well as Fort Drum. CNY also has a strong supply of college graduates capable of entering this high tech field and contributing immediately. Larry coordinated with all these companies to form NUAIR, a not-for-profit that successfully applied for CNY to become one of 6 testing locations in the country for commercial drones. Jon and GeniusNY are focused on partnering entrepreneurs and startups in the drone industry with the strong legacy knowledge in the area. The goal is capital investment, innovation, job creation and an answer to the “brain drain” in CNY.

Last, but certainly not least, the class was treated to a presentation (and some great appetizers) by Dave Katleski, owner of Empire Brewing at his Armory Square location. Dave provided a rich history of the brewing industry in New York State, from 38 independent brewers when they formed the Brewers Association to over 400 today! The industry is responsible for $4.5 billion in annual revenue in the state, and has seen its market share grow dramatically over the last two decades despite the enormous resources of the major beer manufacturers working against them. Dave called on the group to shop local, so we did, starting right there at his bar with some after class cocktails!

Our design team really enjoyed putting this day together for the class, and we hope everyone enjoyed participating. We want to thank CenterState CEO for their contributions in time and knowledge as well as Pita Pit for providing a great lunch, Dairy Farmers of America for the afternoon ice cream snack, and Empire Brewing for the delicious snacks during Dave’s presentation.