As someone who has traveled to 40 countries, Brian Cousins seems steeped in perspective when it comes to judging his own residence.
And he has deemed Genesee County as a top place to live.
“The strengths that I see, really, I can kind of equate a little bit to my personal life. Cherie and I have traveled quite extensively, but every time we come home, we've physically looked to each other and said that we live in the best place on earth. It's got the best climate. It's got the best area. You can either stay in the city of Batavia or one of the villages and kind of have that village environment or that close but not overwhelming metropolitan feel," he said during an interview Friday with The Batavian. "Or you could be out in a rural area and have your space and be able to relax. So we've got the four seasons that play very well ... Agriculture obviously is the number one industry in the county, which is great because people always need to eat.”
It’s important for Cousins to care about the county’s attributes, given that he is the new president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce as of Dec. 19. A longtime employee of various departments — from seasonal and sales to marketing, entertainment and his most recent position as director of accommodations — at Six Flags Darien Lake, the Corfu resident steadily grew professionally from his four seasonal gigs and then a first full-time job working as an inside sales rep.
Initially thinking he would work the mic for a radio station after testing the waters at Genesee Community College and then pursuing Communications at Fredonia State College, Cousins eventually followed the trail that led to a steady job. And then to a successful career at Darien Lake, where he comfortably remained for 25 years.
There’s also the other important element of meeting his wife Cherie. She also worked at Darien Lake.
“She was working there seasonally and has worked there seasonally ever since. So that's been kind of near and dear to my heart. Obviously, whatever place you meet your significant other that will always mean something to you,” he said. “She was a Pembroke graduate. She had never worked at the park until the couple of years that I met her there. So that was kind of neat. She's obviously local. And we still live in Corfu.”
So why leave now?
That’s an interesting question, he said. He has shared a similar career story with former President Tom Turnbull and Chris Suozzi of the county Economic Development Center, Cousins said.
“You get to a point in your career and in your life that you stop, and you kind of take a look around you, and you say, ‘Where have I been? What have I been doing? And what do I want to do for the rest of my, working career?’ And I … was going to work for Darien Lake until, you know, retirement age,” he said. “But as you stop and you kind of do a little self-reflection, and you realize, you've lived in a county for the majority of my life, all my career working age life, and you look around, and you've been working so hard, but you don't really know anybody in the county or, you know, places around it.”
So he thought about his time with Leadership Genesee back in 2018, and how he worked alongside so many business people to effect change or help people achieve what they’re trying to do. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, Cousins saw the Chamber vacancy as an opportunity for a whole new “second path career” to do those things again.
“The Chamber job checked all those boxes. And so that was what really drew me to it,” he said.
There were long conversations with Cherie, he said, since their current lifestyle has been two and a half decades. On the other hand, it “quite literally feels like a blink of an eye.”
His first two weeks have meant learning everything “from soup to nuts” from Interim President Tom Turnbull, “basically showing me everything that I needed to know, the high-level stuff,” Cousins said.
“I really look forward to trying to make sure that I protect this place and carry on in his footsteps and make him just as proud of the organization as he was when he was here,” Cousins said. “The staff is incredible here. They just want to work hard. So out of six people here, four of us are new within this las year … And what’s great about it is everyone’s open. And people are here with that interest, and industrial knowledge to be able to show us the way.”
He hasn’t always been what he now describes as a “happy-go-lucky person,” but the 49-year-old has learned that you can only control so much in life, and there comes a point when you have to let things go.
“And if you let those things get you down that you can't control, then you can never overcome those things that you can control,” he said.
What he can control are drafting goals and a to-do list that include observing how the staff works together as an overall organization and creating an “incredibly strong team,” he said.
“First and foremost is learning what has been done before, seeing how it works, understanding how it works, and talking with not just the staff here, but talking with the board, listening to what they would like to achieve and seeing what they would like to do and understanding what has worked and what hasn't," he said. "But also talk to all the members and seeing why they liked the chamber, how it helps."
Part of his philosophy is to have a vision, and he sees the Chamber embracing customer service for everyone -- no matter if from out of county or from Canada -- and providing proper and accurate information.
“To somebody that is having a business challenge that walks into the door and wants to talk about a different resource or something else that we could do for them — just being able to lean together as a team to be able to answer that call,” he said.
Cousins believes in systems — systematically addressing issues and operational elements, he said. That being said, he also has an open door policy with communication as a tried and true tenet, “the lifeblood,” of any organization, he said.
There will be a change in one of his routines, and that’s his and his wife’s travel schedule. They typically have had to work around Darien’s busy summers, and can now plan to enjoy a Fourth of July and other warm weather getaways. As for his work style, folks can count on the status quo.
“An open door, a smiling face, an extended hand,” he said, quoting the Chamber’s mission. “If a business calls us, we will do anything we can to promote, support and connect. That’s our job, to figure out how to connect them.”
Cousins filled the vacancy left by former President Erik Fix, who is now Batavia's Assistant City Manager.
Photo of Brian Cousins in his new Chamber of Commerce office on Park Road in Batavia, by Howard Owens.