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Former COO of Medical Campus takes reins of Niagara’s tourism institute

LEWISTON – Patrick J. Whalen left his job as chief operating officer of the agency that oversees the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus at the end of October, tweeting #whatshouldPatdonext?

In November he gave his answer, announcing his plans to become interim director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute at Niagara University. Whalen had previously been on the entrepreneurship committee of the 15-member advisory board.

“I’m here for the long haul and will definitely be a candidate for the job as director,” Whalen said of his interim appointment. He said he had a number of job offers to consider when he left the Medical Campus.

“What I really want to do is to make a difference. I think I did that on the Medical Campus,” he said. “And I think I can do that here.”

The Niagara Global Tourism Institute was launched in September 2014 and has been funded in part by the state through the USA Niagara Development Corp. and the New York Power Authority. Its role is to study why people come to the area and help agencies and businesses work together to help keep visitors in the area longer.

Its board of advisers has members in business, government and education.

Timothy M. Downs, Niagara University’s provost and chief academic officer, said there are three economic drivers in the area – health care, industry and tourism. He said Niagara’s group is trying to raise the role of tourism, capitalizing on the fact that the Falls is in its backyard and it also has a College of Hospitality and Tourism.

“We are using the college and university staff to support this initiative so we can improve the local economy, which we hope will improve the regional economy,” Downs said.

He said when people come to the area there needs to be a coordinated way to make them aware of all the region has to offer, at the Falls and beyond.

He said they raise this awareness by using available technology. He noted that longer stays pump more revenue into the economy, creating an exponential increase in the economy by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Whalen said in his role at the Buffalo Medical Campus he got people talking to each other, which is something he would like to recreate in the tourism industry.

“If you collaborate, you can get a lot more done,” he said.

Whalen, 63, played a large role in encouraging business activity on the Medical Campus and in developing the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center, which offers a mix of office, lab and warehouse space for 75 fledgling and mature companies and their founders.

Prior to that he had been the president and owner of PJW Transition Services and founder, owner and president of Fulfillment Systems International, one of more than 20 entrepreneurial ventures he has founded, co-founded or invested in.

He said Niagara Falls has a reputation for people not getting along, but he said from what he’s seen, it has been less about attitude and more about people not talking to each other.

“There’s really been no forum on how to move the whole region forward. Until you have that dialogue, people can’t identify those gaps,” Whalen said. “Getting everyone to pull together on the same end of the rope makes moving forward pretty easy.”

Niagara President the Rev. James J. Maher said the university is pleased to have Whalen in the position, especially with his expertise in business incubation, supply chain management and international trade.

Whalen credited his predecessor, Edward Friel, who he called a “tourism icon.”

Downs said as soon as Whalen became available, he approached him about the job.

“The more we talked, the more I realized how phenomenally talented he is, how connected he is and how respected he is and that’s the kind of person you need in a job like this,” Downs said.

A comprehensive search with the entire board to find a permanent director will be conducted in the spring.