When Dottie Gallagher-Cohen left her job in June as the region’s top tourism marketing executive, she landed in a high-profile post as the area’s leading business advocate. Gallagher-Cohen succeeded Andrew J. Rudnick as president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
She sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to talk about ongoing efforts to create jobs and reform some state laws.
Here is a summary of some issues in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview above.
Meyer: You’ve been out and about, talking with dozens of people. Is there anything you’ve heard that has surprised you or you weren’t expecting to hear?
Gallagher-Cohen: Not so much that I’ve been surprised by, but I have to say I was sort of overwhelmed with the support that I’ve heard. I think that there’s really an understanding that things are changing in Buffalo. People want to be part of that, and they see the Partnership is a place to do that. So, lots of offers of help and a lot of great ideas of things that we should and could be working on.
Meyer: You talked about the changes – the momentum. A poll shows that the overwhelming number of people think the city in particular is moving in the right direction. Yet we still have one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. We all know the region is job-challenged, particularly in certain sectors. How does a business advocacy group go about helping to try to solve those societal issues?
Gallagher-Cohen: This optimism that we’re seeing is because there are things being put in place to actually address those sort of long-term structural problems, like workforce development programs through the Regional Council and other things that we are very much plugged into. But, you know, that old saying “it takes a village;” it takes a city to really fix itself. So the first step is seeing some progress so that people actually believe things can change. But there’s still a lot of hard work that needs to get done. ...Quite frankly, we’re really competing against an economy overall that has been struggling for some time ... Ultimately, we won’t succeed in Buffalo unless we bring more people back here, and we won’t bring more people back here without more jobs.
Meyer: But how do you that?
Gallagher-Cohen: There’s not one answer. But I think what we have now, we’ve never had before, which is a plan that is very well thought out that had a lot of community input through the Regional Council – the Buffalo Billion ... And the community agreeing to the priorities. Because looking for a silver bullet, which is what we were doing here for so long, doesn’t work. So it’s a lot of little things ... we bring private-sector expertise to these public-sector projects.
So in some ways, we can amp up what the public sector is able to accomplish, like we’ve done for example with the Buffalo Building Reuse Project, where we work in tandem with the city to change what we’re doing here. But these things take time ...
Meyer: You took over for Andrew Rudnick, certainly one of the more recognized opinion leaders in Western New York for a couple of decades. Also, at times, very controversial – and his critics would say polarizing. How would you compare your management style with that of Rudnick?
Gallagher-Cohen: In the time that Andrew was leading this organization, that style was required, right? There was some tough spade work that needed to get done. Unshackle Upstate getting formed is one. The Metro Chambers Coalition for Great Lakes Issues was another – getting federal folks to pay attention to us. But where we are as a community right now is we are really working together as collaborators. And I think that that’s something I bring to the table. I like to work with different groups of people to accomplish goals.