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As a first-year law student at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, I went away to college and graduate school to attend top-tier schools as well as to expand my horizons. I had always considered moving back to my hometown of Buffalo, but the more I realize that the region is headed in the wrong direction, the more I see that this is not a possibility.

Every year, many local students attend college elsewhere. What do they find where they go? Economic development, a productive and expanding job market and a commitment by the government officials there to make it happen. Of all my high school friends who have left the area to attend school, not one has returned home to work. This exodus of our smart and talented students needs to be a priority of community leaders.

In Buffalo, there is no concerted central plan by the multiple layers of government to encourage economic development and create jobs for returning students.

In fact, I find it to be the opposite. Instead of working together for the betterment of the area, city government, county government and local development agencies often take singular approaches to encourage economic growth.

While well-intentioned, the fact is this bureaucratic nightmare is causing more harm than good. I have witnessed this firsthand while fulfilling an internship with Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Just sitting in on meetings held between these different groups forced me to realize why this area has struggled to keep up with the economic prosperity I see everywhere else.

Every group wants it done their way, and if it isn't, they will not support another group's initiatives. I can name countless examples from just the past few years -- Peace Bridge expansion, Erie Canal restoration and Convention Center construction.

Leaders need to think outside the box. Recently, Buffalo Common Council President James Pitts called Buffalo a "poor city," in reference to his stance on the land-rent tax for Adelphia's new waterfront development.

While it might be true that Buffalo is not as prosperous as other cities, it does not help the national perception of the area to say that we are poor. Would a future employer or site selector move or start his company in a "poor" city?

It takes an entrepreneurial spirit in our government leaders to look past our shortcomings and work toward economic growth. Our region has not benefited anywhere near as much as others that have actively taken steps to encourage economic development. It is time to work together for the future and betterment of our region.

I challenge Buffalo's leaders to develop the region into one that will reattract area natives.

While economic development and prosperity are important factors in this, these are not possible when the Buffalo region cannot work together to achieve these goals. I hope it will not take the next generation of leaders to finally realize this.

ANDREW NORMAN lives in Williamsburg, Va.
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