Exiting Buffalo Niagara Partnership head boosts region, supports immigration reform
He’s spent over 20 years with Buffalo’s employer-funded economic development organization and retires in June. The Innovation Trail’s Ashley Hassett sat down with the Partnership’s outgoing President and CEO Andrew Rudnick to put a cap on his tenure there.
In a couple of months, Andrew Rudnick will be trading in his trademark bow ties for golf shoes. Rudnick has been in charge of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which doubles as the regional chamber of commerce, since 1992.
Video of the full interview can be viewed below.
In recent weeks Rudnick has been critical of the Cuomo administration and state legislature. He says he believes that the budget just passed in Albany, will continue to hinder business growth upstate.
“An extension of an energy surcharge called 18A. The increase that we have in our region is twice the increase that they have on Long Island, which is not a heavy manufacturing area. There are major manufacturers here for whom just that energy surcharge adds nearly a $1 million a year to their expenses and once you make manufacturing less competitive by having higher costs, you lose manufacturing,” said Rudnick.
Rudnick says the 18A surcharge decision was made, because of a continuing disconnect between upstate and downstate legislators.
“The reason they had to have the extension of 18A is because of this middle class tax cut, which is as people have described it a kind of boondoggle check that everybody is going to get right before the 2014 election. Well you shouldn’t have had that tax rebate in the first place and you would have had a far more sustaining important economic impact by eliminating the surcharge.” said Rudnick.
Turning to his legacy, Rudnick says the Partnership’s greatest accomplishments to date include helping Buffalo establish stronger connections with the Canadian economy, and closing the gap between government and private investment strategies .
“Because elected officials were often leading problem solving or issue talking in the late 80’s they had a different definition of what economic development was. What we changed is a common definition of economic development, which is the expansion and retention of private sector jobs and the expansion of private sector investment,” Rudnick said.
He says the region’s business confidence is better than ever.
“Because of things that were started 20 or 25 years ago, and because the business culture of this community was cautious that in 2013 our actually regional economic condition is probably as strong as virtually any area in the country,” said Rudnick.
Natural business advantages
Ever the booster, Rudnick hasn’t toned down his enthusiasm for the region’s natural business advantages.
“The fact is we have a bi-national location, we have access to low cost green energy is the form of hydropower, we have access to abundant sufficient water, our general location between markets. Our attributes are super strong and if we can address certain state issues with regard to taxes and regulations I think they can be even stronger,” said Rudnick.
Rudnick also addressed recent comments that Co-Chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, Howard Zemsky’s made that the region was being held back by a lack of entrepreneurship and venture capital.
“I don’t think we have evidence that concludes what Howard may be saying, although he’s not wrong, the question is to what extent is that an issue. I think we are growing our entrepreneurship here, I think again some of New York State’s taxes and regulatory climate issues are a limitation to that and I do think that there is sufficient business financing and there is nothing wrong with taking initiatives to stimulate more of both," said Rudnick.
Rudnick says in order to grow the Nation’s economy, he believes the country needs to reform the immigration system.
“This country, I think needs to recognize the importance of immigration and skilled immigrants, immigrants all together, going forward just as it’s done for the last 200 or 300 years, because virtually everyone that is here today came across an ocean. I think the importance of that going forward is as important as it has been since this country was founded,” said Rudnick.
The road ahead
When it comes to retirement, Rudnick says he’s not yet sure what he’s going to do.
“I’ve been told by folks who recently have been in situations like mine, don’t worry about it for a while, when you’re ready to tackle something specific you’ll know it and you’ll do it and for a while you just take a deep breath. As I have said to other people I’m looking forward to not have to get up at 5:30 every morning and I’m looking forward to not having to dress like a grown-up every day,” Rudnick said.
A committee will lead the search for Rudnick's replacement. Andrew Rudnick’s advice for his successor is “make sure you have a thick skin.”