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Organizers of a five-year regional marketing campaign will hire a professional headhunter to help find a president for the $25 million initiative.

Major financial backers of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise met Thursday to discuss ongoing efforts to select a new chairman and president, complete a business plan and finalize efforts to incorporate the seven-month-old entity.

Stephen Odland, president and CEO of Tops Markets Inc., is chairing a search committee that will play a pivotal role in selecting the BNE's next president.

Two key leadership posts became vacant following last month's resignations of President Robert B. Mackenzie and Chairman Victor A. Rice.

Jeremy M. Jacobs Jr. continues to serve as interim chairman until the BNE board of directors names a permanent replacement. Jacobs is chairman of Sportservice Corp., a division of Delaware North Cos. Inc.

BNE officials said a permanent chairman could be elected when the full board meets again Oct. 14.

Odland said the national search for a new president could continue for at least three months. His committee outlined a selection process that will include the hiring of an executive search firm that specializes in locating authorities on economic development.

"The process is intended to be a highly objective one," Odland said. "In order to accomplish this, we need the help of a search firm that has extensive experience in this area."

Members of the search committee are expected to interview at least two out-of-town head-hunting agencies later this month. Odland said BNE officials have discussed some general attributes that they believe a new president should possess, including strong interpersonal and communication skills.

"But the real differentiation is the need for the individual to have economic development experience," Odland said. "And ideally, the individual should have had some private sector experience. The person has to be able to understand the needs of the private sector."

BNE officials have stated that even though a national search is under way, local candidates will be considered for the president's post.

The initiative is billed as the first business-backed campaign to market the region and aims to create 50,000 net new jobs and $1 billion in investment over five years. About 70 contributors have pledged more than $5.3 million in cash and in-kind services to finance the first year of the effort. Officials said two new major contributors were announced at Thursday's meeting, but they declined to publicly identify them until an updated list of BNE financial backers is released this fall.

Odland characterized the meeting as a positive session.

"Everyone recognizes how critically important it that this effort succeed. We need to create jobs here," Odland said.

Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said that the chairmen of several committees gave progress reports at Thursday's meeting.

University at Buffalo President William Greiner is heading a panel that is finalizing plans to set up the BNE as a corporation, an action that could come within a month. Greiner's group has also been evaluating ways to forge a "strategic relationship" with the Partnership, which has been a driving force behind the BNE since its inception earlier this year.

A committee chaired by Paul F. Ciminelli, president of Ciminelli Development Co., continues to oversee the development a business plan.

Rudnick said BNE staffers have been performing a variety of "base-building" chores in recent months.

"They're continuing to work on the nuts and bolts type of things that this organization needs to have, including the gathering of data on specific industries," Rudnick said.

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