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Exports and Generation Y, a recipe for upstate growth


Boosting exports, focusing on homegrown New York businesses, and the importance of engaging with Generation Y. These were all topics of focus at the Accelerate Upstate 2.0 conference in Buffalo this week.

Companies at the conference have heard that reaching out to the millennial generation (or "Gen-Y," people aged 18 – 29), is paramount to their growth and success.

It’s estimated that millennials will make up 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020, and the majority of the customer base. And they'll make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2030.

However, keynote speaker Joan Snyder-Kuhl says almost 30 percent of millennials were unemployed in 2011, and many are still struggling to enter the job market.

Essential to the upstate economy

But Lt. Governor Bob Duffy, discussed a different route to ensuring economic growth upstate.

Speaking at the Accelerate Upstate conference, he highlighted the need for the upstate region to do more national and international business in order for the state to flourish.

New York is third in the country for exports, behind California and Texas, and Duffy says the state has the potential to do better.

“I would admit this publicly. We have not done a lot in this state in decades in terms of exports," said Duffy. "I think in terms of companies that are manufacturing products here in New York state, or have market opportunities, that opens up incredible amounts of doors for jobs and business.”

Duffy says that the upstate economy must be thriving if the state is to succeed.

He says expanding a focus on exports could create opportunities for local companies to grow, as well as fostering regional partnerships.

He says the process of boosting economic and job growth in upstate New York is not going to happen overnight and may take longer than many would like, but he says it’s well underway.

“There was a time when I wondered if people who made decisions across our state even knew where upstate was, or cared about upstate. I thought we were almost like the stepchild of the state at one point," said Duffy. "This governor gets it, he knows upstate, he knows what we need, he knows where we have to get to, and that’s the journey that we’re on right now. And I feel very confident, we’re getting there.”

Closing the gap

Keynote speaker Snyder-Kuhl says embracing the millennial generation is something the business community needs to do in order to boost economic recovery in the upstate region.

“So here’s the strange disconnect. In an economy with an overflowing number of educated graduates, right here in upstate New York as well, eager to enter the working world; companies are expressing their concern about finding talent and retaining it,” Snyder-Kuhl says.

She says companies will begin to see the baby boomer generation leaving the workforce en masse over the next decade, and this makes it vital for businesses to engage millennials sooner rather than later.

“Here’s the bottom line, you need them, and whether you like them right now or they’re getting on your nerves, they’re going to be running your business one day. So now’s the time to get them on board, engage them in your mission and your strategy, and involve them as you shape the future of your business.”

Snyder-Kuhl says there is a large pool of qualified graduates for companies to hire from, but many aren't taking advantage of that pool because they're looking for a different set of skills.

But, she says there needs to be a shift in the attitude of businesses.

“Companies are defining talent differently from what’s actually being produced from the millennial generation. And companies are going to continue to hit a talent block until they realize that the millennials possess an entirely different, but just as valuable set of essential skills.”

She says businesses need to embrace social media and digital platforms to recruit millennials and engage them as customers.

Snyder-Kuhl also suggests businesses could recruit quality candidates by restructuring incentives to include things like allowing employees to volunteer without those days being deducted from personal vacation time.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail