In this column I’ve often lamented Western New York’s brain drain – young geniuses, reared and/or educated here, leaving our region for greener pastures. It’s confounding, because the far western counties are home to 25 colleges and universities with total enrollment in excess of 75,000. Despite the attractiveness of that intellectual environment there’s been little to keep them here once their studies are done.
Despite that ongoing exodus, there is some hope coming from the very brightest of those students.
Last week, I had the honor of taking more than two dozen students from the University at Buffalo on a tour of Confer Plastics and then speaking with them about the strengths and weaknesses that WNY poses to manufacturers. Our plant was one of many stops that they made across the region last week, as they also visited and heard from the New York Power Authority, tourism leaders and economic development officials to name a few.
Their whirlwind tour was a critical part of their unique educational program – the Western New York Prosperity Fellowship. Funded by the Prentice Family Foundation, the Fellowship is granted to gifted students who go through a competitive application process. The University identifies these young men and women as future leaders of our community and they chose only accomplished students that are civic-minded and have an entrepreneurial spirit while being desirous of contributing their talent to revitalizing and sustaining the region.
University officials, led by program director Hadar Borden, have done a bang-up job of selecting such participants. I and all of my tour guides were incredibly impressed by each and every student on the tour. They came from all walks of life and all communities with a wide variety of pursuits – some were MBA students, others were PhD candidates, and their fields ranged from engineering to health sciences to public administration to urban planning.
Each and every one of them were completely engaged and interested and posed some of the deepest questions ever asked on our tours. These are young people who “get it”. They are certainly high-level achievers, the sort of people we want, need and deserve running businesses, developing technologies, and ironing out public policy in WNY.
Past Fellows are doing just that. A list of recent alumni (the program started in 2009) reads of well-positioned professionals holding roles such as international marketing managers and engineers at some of WNYs most recognizable and important companies. These are people in their twenties and thirties doing great things because they were exposed to WNY’s values and needs through the Fellowship and saw a lifelong role for themselves in the region.
The Fellows are the folks that in some way or another I’ll be working alongside, whether directly or indirectly, for the next few decades as we strive to make the local economy better. They are the same people who will be making the community a better place for my children and one day theirs.
Sometimes, based on past trends and present issues, I can’t help but pessimistically wonder about the future of WNY. But, these students have given me some optimism….our future is in good hands with Fellows like these.
From the 30 January 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers