But the real wake-up call for officials of the Metropolitan Development Association of Syracuse and Central New York occurred when they saw a University of Michigan report showing that out of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan regions, the area surrounding Syracuse had suffered the biggest loss of people younger than 35.
That statistic was particularly disturbing since Syracuse and 12 neighboring counties have 35 colleges and universities with more than 130,000 students, says Rob Simpson, president-elect of the association. “That was a real red flag that we were clearly missing the boat,” he says.
So in 2004, the association launched the Essential New York Initiative. The idea was to bring employers, universities and government officials together to find ways to make the region an attractive place for companies to grow their businesses again. It required understanding what talent they had, what they could develop and which companies to target.
The association hired consultants from Catalytix, a strategic planning and transformation-management group, and the Battelle Memorial Institute, a technology consultant, to create a blueprint for the program. The agency set up six industry clusters for which it believed jobs could be developed: biosciences; digital and electronic devices; financial services; higher education and health care; packaging and precision metalworking; and most recently, green renewable energy and environmental sciences.
Each cluster is made up of employers and academics who meet periodically—sometimes as often as once a week—to discuss talent development and attracting employers, Simpson says.
And the clusters are seeing success in their efforts. Three of the six have seen year-over-year positive job growth. Packaging and precision metalworking has seen average wage increases.
Through its efforts, the association has attracted major employers such as Bank of New York and AXA Equitable. JPMorgan Chase recently announced plans to build a $30 million technology center on Syracuse University’s campus. The center will have the dual purpose of serving as a technical call center for JPMorgan employees while also acting as a classroom and research facility for Syracuse students and interested outsiders, says Frank Caliva, director of talent initiatives. Overall, financial services companies brought 1,200 jobs to the region.
From 2004 through mid-2007, the core five counties around Syracuse saw a net increase of 9,158 jobs, a gain of almost 3 percent across all industries. Average wages for the same period grew 10.5 percent from $34,100 to $37,700 annually.
For establishing true collaboration that resulted in ongoing job growth and workforce development for the region, the Metropolitan Development Association of Syracuse and Central New York wins the 2008 Optimas Award for Partnership.
Based in Syracuse, New York, the association is a private, not-for-profit corporation representing the business leadership of Syracuse and Central New York. It employs 17 people, and its membership is 200 CEOs of the largest corporations and institutions in the region with leadership in manufacturing, finance, distribution, biotechnology and more.
The Metropolitan Development Association, established in 1959, is the region's business leadership and economic development organization and the principal private-sector vehicle for the implementation of key development projects across the central upstate region.