Michael Civiletto has come back to Western New York - and he is not alone.
There are many others who have graduated from our schools and colleges and left the region for growing economies in Virginia around our nation's capital, Atlanta and Charlotte in North Carolina. They did not want to leave, but did so because of the limited opportunities that exist for employment in our region.
On Tuesday, about 80 community leaders and residents heard reasons for optimism during a panel discussion on "Economic Development in Northern Chautauqua: Perspectives and Possibilities," which took place at the Jamestown Community College North Training and Conference Facility.
Aaron Resnick of the Westfield Development Corp. directed the discussion between County Executive Vince Horrigan, Dr. Kevin Kearns, vice president for engagement and economic development at Fredonia State, and Thomas Kucharski, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise since 2000.
Civiletto, the president of the Dunkirk Historical Society, posed the question to the panelists about what benefits the region has to offer for families as well as those who are in their 20s, the "millennials."
Kucharski spoke of the momentum that Buffalo has seen in recent years, especially in the medical and science corridors. Add in the "Buffalo Billion" that state Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed for Western New York and you have a number of outsiders looking at the region in a positive view.
That strikes Kucharski - and other panel members - as increasingly hopeful about the future. Besides that, all panel members, were similar to Civiletto. They also left this region before coming back home.
Kucharski spoke of drawbacks some areas face, including the one-way commute he had from his suburban home to his place of employment in Washington, D.C. "It was an hour and 45 minutes to go 20 miles," he said.
Commuters in Western New York rarely face those delays, which many local leaders see as a benefit. "There's a lot of things we can sell," the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise chief noted.
But one thing that cannot be overstated is what is perceived as a lack of opportunity for recent graduates. Kearns spoke of Fredonia State's efforts.
"We have to have jobs," he said. "What this is all about is creating jobs and an environment to keep our best and our brightest. Our initiatives are really out of the frustration that we have these brilliant kids who succeed and leave."
As part of the Northern Chautauqua County Community Foundation's Local Economic Development Committee's mission statement, having a partnership between governments, schools and the private sector is crucial to turning the region around. There are many who yearn to return to Western New York, but the economy has been shaky at best.
In northern Chautauqua County alone, more than 800 jobs have been lost with plant closings and layoffs since January 2013. Reaching out to those who have connections to this region, especially with the tax-incentive laden Start-Up New York program that is tied to local control by Fredonia State University and Jamestown Community College, is a circumstance that may never arise again.
"This is a transformational opportunity for the area," Kearns said. "This is the time to get it done."
Mark your calendars
Our annual Spring and Summer Events Guide is filled with activities for the coming months - and is one of our largest projects of the year. Look for this year's guide in the Saturday OBSERVER.
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