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Bob Duffy: Talent is a top priority

August 9, 2022

Nearly every discussion that takes place in our region currently involves talent. Filling key positions and providing our great businesses in the Finger Lakes region with the workforce they need to operate, and grow has become increasingly challenging post-COVID. The world has changed. People's attitudes have changed. We have moved from a nine to five, Monday through Friday in the office work schedule to much more of a remote or hybrid one.


Whether it involves getting people to return to work or stay interested in their current jobs, employment has become increasingly challenging over the last couple of years. This labor shortfall is causing a number of economic challenges, especially in the hospitality and service area. Businesses have reduced their hours of operation because they cannot fully staff. This is also affecting government and other industries.


From the inception of the ROC2025 partnership among all of our local economic development agencies, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has been charged with talent as our number one priority. We have assembled a tremendous team, working in concert with all of our partners in the Finger Lakes region. Our goal is to maximize our efforts in recruitment, placement, and retention of our most valuable asset – our people.


The Finger Lakes region is home to 19 colleges and universities, and our number one export is talent. These tremendously bright individuals who graduate from our higher ed institutions often look for positions in other areas of the country. In the past these students have not been consistently recruited to think of the Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region as the best place to start a career.


Our Greater Rochester Chamber talent efforts have grown tremendously over the last two years. Our point person is Barb Egenhofer, who was previously a high-level corporate recruiter for Constellation Brands. She is joined by Tonya Dickerson, Melanie DellaPietra, Julia Pagano, and Yashira Rodriguez, all who bring a wealth of skill and experience to the table. They're also joined by Ferah Roman, who leads RBA Staffing, our Chamber recruitment agency, and Dominic Oliveri, who leads Authentica, which provides outstanding background and screening services.


In a short period of time, the Greater Rochester Chamber talent team has led the following efforts:


The Greater ROC Careers job portal ( currently has over 6000 jobs from over 300 businesses, and is becoming the go-to destination for job seekers and employers in our region. This is a free, full-service job board where regional employers can post their positions, search our growing database of job seekers, and link to community resources.


CampusROC, led by Julia Pagano, is an initiative designed to promote Rochester both as an attractive destination for students to attend college and as a desirable community for them to live and work after graduation. Our second annual CollegeFEST event will be held September 17 at Innovation Square for over 1000 students. I always give former Nazareth College President Daan Braveman kudos for suggesting that the Chamber take a much stronger role in establishing relationships with college students before they graduate in hopes of keeping them here. This has grown into a tremendous year-round operation, and this great network of relationships has blossomed. We appreciate all the support that Gallina Development CEO Andy Gallina has provided this effort, including hosting this fabulous event.


While we can't say that every college student will choose the Finger Lakes region as their home after graduation, thanks to the leadership of our talent team and the support of so many agencies, schools, and individuals in our region, we're giving ourselves a fighting chance to keep as much of that talent as possible here to grow our economic strength in the future.


Our Veterans Connect program started over two years ago when we made a trip to Fort Drum, the home of the 10th Mountain Division, to look into recruiting these skilled and dedicated men and women when they leave the service of the US Army. Since that first trip, we have been continuing to strengthen relationships, from job fairs at Fort Drum, to a plan this fall to bring soldiers to Rochester for a day to show off our community. We are blessed to have Yashira Rodriguez leading this effort. As a veteran of the U.S. Army, she is well-versed in military life and very passionate about creating a much stronger talent pipeline between Fort Drum and Rochester.


Next, Greater ROC Remote is a program that is modeled after programs that have been very successful in cities such as Tulsa, OK and other locations that have taken advantage of the new post-COVID remote work habits. We are now drawing a lot of attention to Rochester for remote workers to relocate here. Although they may be working for companies in other cities or states, they're coming here to buy houses, pay taxes, send their kids to school, and support our local businesses. This effort has been funded significantly through ROC2025 by Rob Sands and the Sands Family Foundation, among other local business leaders. We have been overwhelmed by a large number of applicants – many who have been interviewed, and some who are already in the process of purchasing houses or renting property. We are grateful to have Melanie DellaPietra, who also works at NextCorps, to be assisting with that program.


Workforce development is evolving locally. It has been an area where significant money has been invested, but in terms of getting people into jobs, the numbers have not often matched the investments. We are proud of new team member Tonya Dickerson, who brings to the Chamber a lengthy track record of experience and relationships in the workforce development area. She is currently working on an overall assessment of all the existing workforce development offerings and will be our point person in all areas of workforce training and development. The chamber's role in workforce development involves strengthening the pipeline, and Tonya will be ensuring that when, after the investment of training is complete, we get those graduates placed into businesses throughout our region to begin their careers.


Talent has been a priority for years, but the urgency has increased during and post-COVID pandemic. I'm proud to say that our Chamber team has stepped up and has done an extraordinary job to coalesce around all these various priorities, from college students to temporary placement and all the ancillary services that are helping businesses fill these key positions and grow.


Every region is facing not only a talent shortage but a change in the culture of work. Our companies have to adapt to the changing workforce and the priorities of our young workers. Aside from recruiting, our Chamber is educating through our relationships and the many programs, events, and webinars that we host to educate employers on how best they can attract and retain talent. A big part of that is ensuring that you have a culture that is welcoming and inclusive, displays diversity in all areas, and adapts to the needs and priorities of the workforce of tomorrow.


With our superb Chamber talent team working cohesively with all of our regional partners and businesses, the Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes region is going to create a pathway to success in the area of talent. The key is relationships, communication, partnership, and collaboration, and we are seeing that happen in our region like never before.  I am very proud of our regional talent efforts, investments, and direction.


If you have comments, questions, or talent needs, please reach out to myself or any of our talent team at any time through our website, We are here to help and serve you.



This column originally appeared in the Rochester Business Journal.


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