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CenterState CEO president says central NY must unite to turn around sluggish economy

Tom Magnarelli
CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson (right) with the minority-owned business of the year winner, the law offices of Jose Perez, PC.

CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson said despite encouraging economic developments in central New York over the past few years, the economy and population of the region is stagnant. Simpson said the current trajectory of Syracuse and Onondaga County is not sustainable.

“Does our community have the appetite to disrupt this cycle, this system, of economic stagnation, or don’t we?” Simpson asked.

Speaking at the chamber of commerce’s annual meeting, Simpson made it clear what he thinks about some of the biggest and most divisive issues facing the area, an area that has not grown in more than 40 years.

“Our civic discourse has descended to the lowest point that I can recall since returning to Syracuse 13 years ago,” Simpson said. “The pessimism and distrust that too often holds us back, has been on full display.”

On the Inner Harbor neighborhood by COR Development, he said construction has been ground to a halt by lawsuits from the city. On the Inland Port proposal for Jamesville, just south of Syracuse, he said a well-resourced campaign is actively trying to stop it. And on Consensus CNY, the recommendations for city and county government consolidation, he said public opposition has fallen along political lines, based on the fear of losing a comfortable yet failing situation that consists of 36 municipalities.

He also added that downtown Syracuse does not need a wider Interstate-81, but rather a street grid, as state officials decide how to replace the aging viaduct.

Simpson listed some tough numbers about the economic stagnation of Syracuse and Onondaga County. Workers in the county on average earn less than the national average. Homes have a lower average value and one-third of the population in the city lives in poverty.

“These statistics tell a story of a place that, for lack of a better term, has been stuck in time," Simpson said.

He said the rebirth of downtown and a cleaner Onondaga Lake have been recent successful developments and the community needs to unite around more economic projects.

"The opportunities to make this region a place where our children and families can find jobs, homes and create the kind of lives we want for them are right in front of us," Simpson said. "So close we can almost touch them."

Simpson encouraged everyone at the meeting, not to be afraid to rock the boat a little to get there.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.