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1,500 top executives invited to explore Buffalo Niagara Economic development forum will be held here Sept. 12-14

The backers of the Explore Buffalo Niagara 2007 hope that, when it comes to convincing top executives that Western New York is a good place to do business, seeing is believing.

That's why the initiative's organizers are inviting 1,500 top executives to visit the region Sept. 12-14 for an economic development forum aimed at giving each official a personalized look at what the Buffalo Niagara region can offer their companies.

"We're describing it as an interactive forum with a customized agenda for each participant," said David A. Roll, the Western New York chapter manager for the National Electrical Contractors Association, who is serving as the initiative's chairman.

Backed by a $600,000 budget and armed with a DVD featuring welcoming remarks from Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren E. Buffett touting the region's assets and work force, organizers are targeting "a carefully researched list of business executives" and 75 site selectors, Roll said.

Berkshire Hathaway owns The Buffalo News and insurance company GEICO, which employs more than 1,100 at a customer service center in Amherst.

"We selected the ones that were best suited for Western New York," Roll said Monday after the official roll-out of the initiative. Those targeted firms include companies in manufacturing, bioinformatics, health care and technology.

Organizers shied away from setting a target for how many executives they'd like to lure to the event, which for now is being planned to accommodate up to 100 participants, said Kevin J. Donovan, the United Auto Workers union's assistant regional director and one of the event's co-chairmen.

"One company moving here will make it a success," Donovan said.

But before that happens, the organizers will have to convince the targeted executives to hop on a plane and come here. Beyond the initial invitation, organizers plan to follow up with additional information about the region and further e-mails touting the forum, as well as tapping into personal contacts local business leaders may have established with those executives.

The group won't pay for the visiting executives' travel expenses, but they will cover the cost of their hotel and meals, said Mary Ann Lauricella, an Explore Buffalo Niagara 2007 spokeswoman.

Therese Hickok, the marketing communications director for the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise business development and marketing group, said building a personal relationship is important.

"We do this all the time on a much smaller scale," typically with three to five executives, she said. "It's always proven successful for us on a small scale." The BNE is a partner in the venture.

Organizers promise that the forum will be far more than presentations in a conference room. Plans call for setting each participant up with a local CEO from a similar field to serve as a personal mentor and guide as they tour the region to highlight the area's assets that fit the needs of the visiting executive's company.

That could be brownfield redevelopment projects, the region's 78 megawatts of available low-cost hydropower, the Buffalo Niagara medical corridor or the local efforts to develop a bioinformatics industry, said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

"If we don't market them effectively, how will people from other places get to know the really great things the Buffalo Niagara region has to offer," Brown said. "If we can get them here, we can sell them on investing in the region."

Intel Corp. Chairman Craig R. Barrett has indicated that he will attend, said Roll, who tapped into his contacts at the Silicon Valley chip maker. Even before the initiative's official launch, an attorney from Sun Microsystems called Roll at home on Sunday night to inquire about the event, he said.

Sponsors of the initiative include the New York Power Authority; State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newstead; Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo; Empire State Development Corp.; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; M&T Bank Foundation; and the New York State United Teachers Association.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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