The keynote speaker today at the Genesee County Economic Development Center's annual meeting at Batavia Downs was Jeremy Bout, founder and CEO of Edge Factor.
It's an education resource company that makes video and training materials to help attract students to STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- fields and then guide them through a career path.
Bout said his life was changed as a teen when he was given access to advanced manufacturing tools that were really beyond what most 18-year-olds get access to while in training. That eventually led him to seek ways to make STEM careers more attractive for students and help bridge the gap between what today's employers need to hire and what careers young people are choosing.
"I realize I was one of the lucky ones," Bout said. "I was the one that came out of high school that didn't get lost in the shuffle. I found meaningful work and meaningful employment.
"I went on to study many different things but it was that opportunity with the real-world intersecting my education that gave me that gateway into my passion."
Bout and his team make videos that tell the stories of how technology impacts lives. They also make highly engaging training videos that help young people prepare to enter the workforce.
"We want to use media and technology because there are new methods for a new generation," Bout said.
The Genesee Valley Education Partnership received GCEDC's Economic Development Partner of the Year Award.
GCEDC works with GVEP on workforce development in 22 school districts in the region, serving 24,000 students.
"For those of you who are here today, whether you're an educator, a legislator, or a business owner, business developer, or a board member, or whomever or whatever you represent, I think we all have one collective goal," said Kevin McDonald, district superintendent.
"And that is to make Genesee County and our region a great place to live, work and play. We hope our contributions will only provide opportunity and encouragement for our younger generations to make the choice to live, work and play in our community."
Assemblyman Steve Hawley spoke of the regulatory and tax challenges businesses and taxpayers face in New York but said in Western New York, we continue to have a positive outlook.
He also said not all of his colleagues in Albany obstruct business development. He noted that when Amazon decided to pull out of a planned second headquarters in Queens, he immediately put out a press release, and sent a letter to Jeff Bezos inviting Amazon to STAMP -- Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park -- in Alabama.
That action, he said, received some notable support in Albany, particularly from Crystal Peoples Stokes, the current majority leader.
"She went out of her way and walked up to me and said, 'I don't know if you saw it or not, but I put out a statement supporting you and supporting STAMP for Amazon to locate here in Western New York,' Hawley said. "That's a huge thing.
"So we're not giving up. We're going to tell people around this country and around the world that we're open for business."
State Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer said there is a new wind blowing through Albany, one that is much more focused on social issues and much less focused on taking care of business in New York.
One big example, he said, is the shuttled Amazon deal in Queens. Another is the push to extend prevailing wage provisions to private-sector economic development.
There's also more focus on things like voting rights and abortion. Albany is dealing with these issues at this point in the legislative session rather than what in past years has been the top focus -- the state budget.
"These are the things that are out there," Ranzenhofer said. "They were never really a concern. They were never going to happen. But they are happening each and every week in Albany and they are directly impacting this community. My message to you is that you have to, and we all collectively have to, be vigilant more so than in the past."
Steve Hyde touched on several activities of GCEDC during his remarks but especially STAMP -- noting the continued progress to make the site shovel ready for large, high-tech manufacturers and the state's continued support of the project.
"I never knew when I started this journey, actually in the fall of 2005 were the first steps, when I kind of started on this vision of trying to create a big, huge high-tech mega site to create better opportunities for kids," Hyde said. "I never knew that that was going to be a career-defining project."