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Climate is changing in Western New York's economy

There's something going on in Buffalo. Change is in the air. While its origins are diffuse, there is a growing intensity of focus and purpose that has been absent around here for many years. In the face of a dramatically unsettled global economic climate, Western New York, with Buffalo as its nucleus, is carrying on, busily recapturing its entrepreneurial mojo.

On Aug. 4 and 5, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership held the Accelerate Upstate Conference where business, political and academic leaders convened to participate in constructive, interactive dialogue about work force and economic development specific to the needs of our region. Toward that end, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has assembled a Regional Economic Council for Western New York tasked with the mission of developing an action plan uniquely tailored for this area. Other such councils will serve regions throughout the state.

For its part, SUNY has been actively engaged in forging a new entrepreneurial spirit throughout its system with an initiative that will better synchronize its programs and activities with those of the business community. The University at Buffalo, Buffalo State, Fredonia State, ECC and others have been harmoniously engaged in developing and integrating a design that will help make the SUNY schools in Western New York more nimble and responsive to emergent work force demands within the private and public sectors.

Recently, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and representatives from local business and state government, in concert with Buffalo State's Small Business Development Center, met with an unexpectedly large contingent of the region's small business owners, college faculty and interested stakeholders for a small business outreach event. The speakers offered concrete, reality-based insights relevant to current and aspirational business owners. Attendees networked afterward, adding a palpable, synergistic dimension to the experience.

One can't help but feel that statewide, and certainly locally, a critical mass is building. Academicians, business people and political leaders are sharing ideas, insights and perspectives that will substantially influence the economic climate in the Buffalo metropolitan region for years to come.

As Higgins pointed out, our city had once been an international center of prosperity and a crucible of creative enterprise. But Buffalo's luster slowly faded and it became just another rust belt city, noted mostly for foul weather and fowl appendages.

But something's happening. There's a large and growing community of stakeholders who are deeply committed to building a diversified, interconnected and sustainable economic environment that capitalizes on our region's unique resources and human capital. No silver bullets, no miracle cures, just a grass-roots movement based on ideas, energy, enterprise and a bias for action. That's how change happens.

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Rick Johnson is manager of special projects at the SUNY Research Foundation/Buffalo State.

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