Economic Development Day

By Natalia J. Cagide Elmer, class of 2015 design team member

Well, there went yet another successful and exciting day at Leadership Greater Syracuse, this time all focused around the theme of the day: Launching Local, Growing Global! The day began with the usual breakfast panic (who knew that transporting 100 cups of boiling coffee could be a hazardous endeavor!). The caffeine adventure was well worth the effort though, bringing also to the LGS early risers deliciously fresh baked goodies provided by Picasso’s Pastries, a local business born in 2013 that has immersed itself in the Westcott St community.

The day began with the usual announcements and happy thoughts of the day (did you fill out your class survey? Tsk Tsk!). Then Nate Brown and Natalia Cagide introduced the day’s plan and summarized the ideas the team had meticulously put together (over beers and coffee more often than not), for the class to think and learn about throughout the day. The first speaker up was Troy Evans, board member of Syracuse CoWorks, and founder of the Syracuse chapter of One Million Cups (69th in the country), who welcomed the class to CoWorks. This space was a great spot to start the day, being a place where local entrepreneurs get together to brain storm in a “Think Tank” environment where they bounce around different ideas and interact with the community to build viable business plans and spark the beginning of a greater and stronger local economy.

The first formal speaker, gracefully introduced by Angela Hughes, was Nora Spillane (Senior Economic Development Specialist for the Office Economic Development of Onondaga County), whose role is to look at the scale of Onondaga County and the economic system that works within it – in a nutshell, they look at all the different levers throughout the economic development agencies in state government, drawing tools together to aid businesses and partners to drive entrepreneurs to grow and expand their ideas. She made a wonderful summary of different businesses that have thrived in the area and invested in both the community and different neighborhood pockets, connecting these thoughts with local and regional economic growth trends.

The day followed with Matt Godard, owner and founder of Café Kubal, who spoke as part of the One Million Cups morning. He shared his fascinating story of how he began a business that now sells over a million cups of coffee a year (how very fitting!), starting from the basement of his parent’s house where he would make his coffee from scratch with a restored antique coffee roaster. What an inspiration to listen to someone whose passion and belief in his product has driven to a successful and growing business! The best part of this activity was the post-talk Q&A pow wow, where everyone chipped in (LGSers, entrepreneurs, and members of the local community), brainstorming ideas on how to boost their efficiency, engage with new staff, and expand their brand without losing their identity. What a start to the day!

After this, brilliant and fun AJ Teft introduced the group to our main activity – The Salt Tank. Inspired by the Shark Tank TV show, the class was divided into teams and set to prepare for a “Salt” (think local!) Tank Pitch Competition later in the day, to be judged by a panel of economic development leaders. This activity was based on the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) currently ongoing in NYS, for which CNY is going through a process in which the Regional Economic Development Council is narrowing down which industries/topics should be picked for this statewide competition for funding. The class was divided into themed groups that covered topics such as Manufacturing, Agribusiness, Revitalization, Entrepreneurship, and many more, and which were required to work together to come up with a goal/idea related to their theme in CNY, with facts supporting them and a description of the economic benefits that would result. After 45 minutes of frantic brainstorming, planning, note taking, and discussing, the teams were then rallied up to gather their stuff, hold their thoughts for the competition later, and move on to the next stop.

After a brief walk through downtown Syracuse, the next item on the agenda was Terakeet – a locally born mid-sized firm with a little under 200 employees which specializes in helping multiple sized brands create relevant online communities, manage their visibility and reputation, and engage in their public perception and media coverage. After a fascinating tour around their modern and fresh downtown office location (introduced and choreographed by the innate leader and go-doer, Dan Scrimale), we had the pleasure to sit and listen to the next speaker, CEO and Co-Founder of the firm, Mac Cummings (presented by the ever practical and pragmatic Brian Bund). This young laid back entrepreneur blew away the crowd as he told the story of his long journey of success vs. failure, which culminated in co-founding a company with an innovative business model which keeps soaring to new levels of success whilst remaining deeply rooted in Syracuse.

After such an intense morning, a working lunch with the competition teams took place at the O’Brien & Gere downtown office, and teams were able to continue their brainstorming and preparation for the Salt Tank while munching away at the catering provided by Darwin’s (never had a group of 55 grown professionals been so elated at the idea of a sandwich when we told them where lunch was coming from!). This was followed by a break off time to allow for everyone to carpool  and scoot off to Beak & Skiff, a local apple orchard founded in 1911 and which, after 5 generations of Hard Cider and Spirits production, manages a quarter of a million apple trees to produce products which are shipped all over the region and beyond! The speaker for them, Danielle Fleckenstein (introduced by wonderful Randy Tuthill), shone out for her passion for this family-run business, and talked about how they have adapted over the years to continue broadening their horizons…truly fascinating stuff! After this, the incredibly practical and bright Lindsay Wickham introduced Evelyn Carter, Division Consumer Affairs Manager for Wegmans. This final business speaker represented the other side of the “local to global” spectrum, and her message reflected how their company prides itself in caring for its employees, in spite of the size of their organization. The fun fact of the day was learning that CEO Danny Wegman himself visits each store during the holidays and shakes hands with every single employee to thank them for their work – wow! How’s that for a large scale enterprise business model?!

The day finally ended with the much anticipated, intense, and nerve racking Salt Tank. The activity was introduced by graceful and whitty Meryl Corsun, and sparked with the unmistakable Jaws theme, used to prep each team as they got ready to give their spiel….Game. On! Competition was fierce, stakes were high (bottle of hard cider from 1911, free month of co-working at the CoWorks space, and a Wegmans gift card for the victors), and everyone was on their top game, with even some freehand/freestyle figure depictions live on stage, and ideas on how to turn $1 into $400M! Ultimately, after a grueling effort from the judges, they declared the final pitch of the competition as the winning team, who shared how all different areas pitched throughout the activity were all affected by their topic of Infrastructure (smart move). Hurrah and congrats to them! This concluded with a quick presentation by Chris Fowler, Executive Director of Syracuse First, who was introduced by wonderfully efficient and connected Adria Finch. Chris gave a great speech in the casual setting marked after the announcement of the winner of the Salt Tank, with a great message – it was the most unique speaker setup yet, which felt more like an elaborate toast than a lecture! The day culminated with a wrap up and closing remarks from the both sweet and bright team members Emilee Lawson and Neil Webb, which were followed by yet another fun and successful LGS social – all accompanied by great local hard cider and cheer!

Congrats team on a splendid day! Go LGS Class ’15, whoop!!