Bob Duffy: A Rochester-Buffalo connection can strengthen both communities
The Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region is currently on a hot streak for outstanding projects, development, and investment. And yet another opportunity is in our future that could be even more beneficial for our region and our sister city to the west.
I recently attended a Western New York Regional Innovation Tour to Buffalo with a delegation of business leaders from Rochester to meet with our counterparts in the Queen City. This was the second gathering, as the Buffalo delegation visited Rochester late last year. This most recent visit solidified the opportunities for exponential growth and partnership between our two regions.
Rochester and Buffalo are located approximately sixty miles apart. The drive between our two cities is less than most commutes in our larger metro areas. We have always had strong relationships, and both regions have been very complementary to each other. But within the last six to eight months, these relationships have begun to strengthen dramatically, and there are many people to thank for this.
First, we thank Governor Hochul and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation for committing millions of dollars in development for Rochester, Buffalo, and the Niagara Falls regions. We also are grateful to Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Joe Morelle for the two pieces of legislation they are each leading that will hopefully bring huge investments for research, innovation, and technology to our region – The US Innovation and Competition Act and the America COMPETES Act.
I thank Rene Jones, the CEO of M&T Bank, who traveled to Rochester last year to promote and reinforce the need for strengthening the partnerships between our business communities and universities within our two regions. And I thank Chamber Board Chair Rob Sands, Joe Stefko from ROC 2025, Dan Burns, M&T's Rochester market president, RIT President Dave Munson, and University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf and Vice-President Peter Robinson for their outstanding support and coordination of these visits and burgeoning partnerships.
On our visit to Buffalo, we were greeted by Congressman Brian Higgins and University of Buffalo President Satish Tripathi, along with an array of leaders from The Jacobs Institute at the University of Buffalo, M&T Bank, and 43 North. We spent a terrific day touring and hearing about the fabulous innovation, development, and investment that is currently going on in Buffalo. During my last career, I spent a great deal of my time in Buffalo, and this tour gave me a chance to go back and see the growth that has occurred in these developments over the past several years.
Buffalo is home to our beloved Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, but they're also home to some tremendous innovation in medical technologies, the tech sector, and incubators, that are interwoven throughout their downtown area. Buffalo has rekindled their spirit of hometown pride that is attracting and maintaining talent and providing countless opportunities.
Buffalo has been very successful in garnering New York State support and investment, along with huge private sector investments and grants that have kept their momentum going. Rochester has not been left behind. We have been rebuilding and reinventing ourselves for several years. As was mentioned by the MIT professors Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson in their book, “Jump-Starting America,” out of 102 regions they studied, including others in Upstate New York, they chose Rochester as the number one candidate for a future technology hub.
While we may sometimes compete in a marketplace for companies and investment, we are much better collaborators than competitors. Our two cities and regions would provide a force that can compete with any large metro area across this country.
This relationship began to solidify when our regions collaborated on a bid for the Amazon headquarters, which was a tremendous experience. We worked as a team. We highlighted the best in both regions. I thought the application was outstanding and, while we did not win, we have since reaped the benefit of several Amazon investments in both regions.
It is inspirational to me to see two upstate cities, often described by some media as “rust belt” communities, with similar stories of rebirth and renovation. We have both experienced large industries either shrink or leave our communities. We have both suffered economic and job losses in the past, but thanks to government and developer investments, a growing confidence, and the incredible spirit of the people of both Rochester and Buffalo, we are coming back stronger than ever.
Both cities and regions have become much nimbler, and much more focused on technology, growth, and innovation. And both are doing a superb job in reinventing themselves and their images.
While we're at the early stages of this innovative partnership, I can't reinforce how important it is and how grateful I am to the leaders in both regions for seeing these opportunities and choosing to think futuristically and in a big picture way.
On the drive back to Rochester, I was very enthused about what I experienced and how it reinforced what I've known now for several years, which is what a great city and region Buffalo is. This corresponds with exactly how I feel about Rochester/Finger Lakes region. We are strong. We are resilient. We are looking to build for the future. There is no other place that I would rather live.
It's time to ignore the naysayers who see the glass as half empty and look at the Rochester/Buffalo partnership as a huge step into our future that will benefit both regions. We are facing a great opportunity, and if we can pull this off, which I'm confident we can, we will be able to compete with any large metro area in the country.
After the tragedy of the Buffalo massacre at Tops, the Buffalo community rallied together immediately. But so did the Rochester community, which has come together and sent food, money, and supplies to Buffalo. We are truly sister cities in every sense.
Maybe in the past the timing and opportunities weren't there, but it feels now that it is truly the right time to strengthen and operationalize these relationships, and grow the Buffalo/Rochester region into a national powerhouse. The more we can encourage businesses and universities in both regions to collaborate, the more it will pave the way for the possibility of a huge technology hub.
With the looming approval in Congress of Senator Schumer’s and Congressman Morelle’s legislation, we will be able to compete with anyone for that funding. Both myself and GRE president and CEO Matt Hurlbutt are deeply involved with our counterparts in Buffalo, and I love the teamwork and collaboration in that process.
For those who feel we should just compete on our own merits, I strongly disagree. I respect our sense of hometown pride, but I strongly suggest that we pursue these collaborations and partnerships, and grow this fabulous Rochester/Buffalo region.
I truly believe that these two Great Lakes cities, so rich in natural, human, and technological resources, are much stronger together than apart.
I expect our Buffalo Bills to compete for and win next year’s Super Bowl. I also hope and expect that the Rochester and Buffalo regions will align and follow the same process that has brought the Bills such success – and that is talent, teamwork, and execution.
If we can accomplish this, the Rochester-Buffalo team will be formidable.
Let’s get to work – and Go Bills!
This column originally appeared in the Rochester Business Journal.