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Loving the region is what drives new business leader

Dottie Gallagher-Cohen admits she always thought Andrew J. Rudnick had a great job heading the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

And now she’s succeeding Rudnick, who is retiring as the Partnership’s president. Her new role, which begins in early June, will make her the point person for the Buffalo Niagara region’s leading business advocacy group.

Q: What made you think this was a job you wanted to pursue?

A: For years – and I mean 20 years – I’ve looked at that position and I’ve looked at Andrew and said ‘That’s a job I would love to do.’ It’s this wonderful, pivotal role of being able to align the business community for the public’s interest. It just feels like a place where you can get stuff done. And that’s what’s really attractive about it to me.

I’ve been on the board now for about 2½ years and I’ve gotten some really good insight into the work that’s being done there. Now I’m really having a much better understanding of the excellent work that’s being done. I feel like it’s a really good spot to operate from and get stuff done.

Q: You’re probably going to be the most high-profile woman in the local business community now.

A: You think? I never think about myself in those terms. I can’t get my kids to make their beds. People say you’re on the most influential list and I say you’ve got to stop at my house and you’ll see just how much influence I have.

The goal of my career is to make Buffalo a great place. I believe it is a great place. I felt it was a great place in the ’70s. I’ve just always believed in this place.

For me, it’s very personal because my great-grandfather immigrated to Buffalo from Ireland in the late 1800s, and this was his intended destination. He was 14 years old and, quite literally, a very poor fisherman in Ireland who came here with his brothers with nothing. He worked the railroads and worked his way up to become an engineer.

He had four kids, all went to college. My grandfather had 10 kids, most of whom went to college. This place has really influenced my family’s history in a very dramatic way. The land of opportunity was Buffalo for my family over all these generations. I want my kids to want to live here.

For me, this motivation about being in a job where I can influence positive things for this community is what gets me out of bed every morning and what keeps me up every night. It’s really what I want, in the end, for people to say about what I’ve done here. Whether I’m important or not doesn’t matter. It matters if I can get stuff done and get people to work together.

Q: How are you viewing the Partnership? Are you coming in thinking that this is broken and you have to fix it? Do you want to go in different directions?

A: My sense of the Partnership is that there’s a lot of really good work that’s being done that people don’t know about because they work so much in collaboration with other folks. Often times, they’re not front and center in something. Part of it is telling the story of the work that’s being done.

I feel it’s essentially similar with where the Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau was, although it’s in a much better place than the CVB was, where you’ve got really good staff doing really good work. You need to maybe turn up the dial a little bit on the messaging and engage more people in the process.

I believe in the Partnership’s three-year strategic plan. It’s really built around three frames, advocacy, business development and convening people to solve problems.

Q: Andrew Rudnick has been at the Partnership for 20-plus years. How are you going to be different from Andrew?

A: I jokingly say I’m sort of a kinder, gentler version of Andrew Rudnick. I think we’re the same in that we’re both passionate and determined in approaching a problem from a “how do we get to a solution point of view.” I think we’re different in the way we communicate, and that just comes from my set of experiences versus his set of experiences.

He’s got a lot more going on the policy side and public policy development that I don’t have. So I’ll rely heavily on staff there to shore up that part of my resume.

I’m looking forward to getting involved in policy that moves the economic needle forward for Western New York. I don’t mind taking on a fight to do that. Here at the CVB, I’ve been very front and center in advocating for tourism. But tourism is like babies: Nobody hates it.

What’s difficult about this job is that, in most cases, there are sides to each issue. I understand that comes with the territory, but I’m ready to handle that.

Q: In some ways, the head of the Partnership is looked at as someone who has to get things done, but in a lot of ways, the person is like the Wizard of Oz, someone who’s viewed as having a lot of influence, but who has to rely on other people to get things done. It’s a challenging spot to be in.

A: It is, but I think there is a difference today than there was 20 years ago, and Andrew did a lot of the dirty work that needed to be done: forming the organization, getting a regional agenda together and the process for putting a regional agenda together. Those things did not exist before Andrew Rudnick.

Now, we are in a different place as a community. We’re on an upswing, as opposed to a downswing. We’re not rebuilding from a lost economy of steel mills anymore. We’re figuring out the New Economy. There’s a tremendous up-swell of community engagement for improving the community and investing in the economy in a way that I don’t think existed 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, everyone was waiting for the big silver bullet. I think that’s changed.

So the role of being a convenor and a connector within the business community to get things done, in some ways, is easier today than it was 20 years ago. He did a lot of the very difficult mining work that needed to get done for those 20 years. He took a lot of heat and he managed it with a tremendous amount of grace.

Q: Are there things you’d like to see the Partnership get involved in more heavily?

A: I do think – and I’ve talked extensively with the board and the search committee about this – the role for advocating for tourism is important and that the business community needs to have a deeper role in that. That has been happening, but there’s unfinished business here in terms of shoring up how we protect the tourism economy as a growth part of the economy.

With tourism being one of the three industries targeted with the Buffalo Billion, there’s a natural synergy to bring some tourism emphasis into the Partnership. But I really, honestly feel that the work that they’ve done is dead on with the focus on key industries and getting rid of barriers to economic development. So I really don’t think there’s going to be a wholesale change in approach.

Q: How do you see the Partnership’s relation with the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise?

A: It seems very symbiotic right now. It seems like there are very clear lines of division and that there is a tremendous amount of efficiency that exists between the organizations.

Q: Do you think the groups should be merged?

A: I don’t know enough about the advantages and disadvantages of doing that. I know that the Partnership boards and the BNE boards have talked about it. In the end, the boards make the decision about the right thing to do.

I do think there is an opportunity for the Partnership, the BNE and the CVB to be a little more coordinated on messaging to the external market place. [BNE President] Tom Kucharski already are working on a project right now about expatriates for that very reason.