Public-Private Partnership Acts to Stem Tide of Talent Leaving Central New York

By Marquez, Jessica | Workforce Management, October 24, 2005 | Go to article overview

Public-Private Partnership Acts to Stem Tide of Talent Leaving Central New York


Marquez, Jessica, Workforce Management


Keeping college students in the area after graduation has been a major focus; the program, only in its second year, has already seen results

FIVE YEARS AGO, PETER Soderberg was determined to accomplish two things: aggressively grow his medical device manufacturing company's business by 15 percent annually, and keep it in Skaneateles, Falls, New York, where it has had its headquarters since 1915.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for him to realize how difficult it would be to have it both ways.

Soderberg, who was coming aboard as president and CEO of Welch Allyn, saw that Central New York was systematically losing its talent base.

Employers throughout the region were packing up and leaving-many opting for cheaper labor abroad. Once a major manufacturing hub, Central New York had been crippled by major layoffs as companies such as Allied Chemical and General Electric moved jobs offshore. The region lost 6,500 jobs from 2000 to 2002. With the job losses, people left too. The population was decreasing 5 percent to 10 percent a year. Clearly, Soderberg had reason to be worried about his company's ability to grow in the region.

Meanwhile, in Syracuse, members of the Metropolitan Development Association of Syracuse and Central New York, a group of executives from 100 local companies, had been having discussions about what to do to stem the loss of jobs. It was apparent that its previous approach of encouraging investment in research and development was not enough to address a key part of the problem: an outflow of young talent.

The city of Syracuse and its 12 surrounding counties had 35 colleges and universities with 130,000 students and a workforce that was 20 percent more educated than the national average. Despite this, out of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, the Syracuse suburbs suffered the greatest loss of young people during the '90s.

"It was clearly evident to us that we didn't put enough emphasis on people," says Irwin Davis, president of the Metropolitan Development Association.

The story of an old manufacturing region trying to reinvent itself and revive its economy is not unique, but what is different about Central New York's story is how executives and local government officials came together to address the problem. The program they created, the Essential New York Initiative, set out to identify industries most likely to grow in the region and stimulate collaboration among companies. It worked to establish links between employers and universities. It created clear strategies to attract young talent to the region and tried to build a public recognition of Central New York as a distinct region.

Only in its second year, the program has already generated some results. For the first time in years, the region's population is increasing, reversing more than a decade of losses. It is also seeing job creation. From August 2004 to August 2005, the Syracuse area alone saw a net increase of 4,900 jobs, a gain of 1.6 percent. Earlier this month, the region hosted its second annual 40 Below Summit, which brought together more than 1,000 attendees under the age of 40 to explore ways to revitalize the area and make it more attractive to both younger business owners and employees.

A lot of regions will bemoan their problems in generating jobs, "but then they have the business community and the economic development officials working in silos," says Lou Musante, managing partner at Catarytix. The company was hired along with the Battelle Memorial Institute, a technology consultant, to create a blueprint for the program. With the Essential New York Initiative, he says, local government is really listening to the corporate base.

IDENTIFYING INDUSTRY CLUSTERS

When Battelle consultants interviewed Soderberg about the challenges facing employers, he talked about the need for companies within the same industry to work together. "It was more likely that we were going to meet a company that we could partner with at a trade fair in Düsseldorf, Germany, than we would in Syracuse," he says. …

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