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It's time for Rochester to lead from the bottom up

Rochester Business Journal
February 3, 2017

When I tell people I moved to Rochester from Florida, the responses range from a quizzical stare to a blunt question: “Why would you do that?” I endeavor to explain that I never felt a sense of community living in Florida. Yet, few understand. Those of you who have lived here most or all of your lives take for granted the stewardship of local leaders and the strength of local institutions. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we not take our community for granted. 

Our national culture now equates loudness with leadership and abrasiveness with authority. We are beset by media that seeks to inflame more than inform, state and federal governments that tax too much and deliver too little, and business and political leaders who seek to aggrandize themselves more than to deliver for their communities.  

For Rochester to succeed, it’s important that we remain above the petty squabbling in which people now seem inclined to engage. Both the right and the left are guilty. Many people tolerate behavior in those with whom they agree that they don’t tolerate in those with whom they disagree. 

David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values asserts, “We Americans didn’t necessarily think our way into political polarization, but we’ll likely have to think our way out.” He describes the manifestations of our polarization as “binary … thinking, absolutizing one’s preferred values, viewing uncertainty as a weakness, privileging deductive thinking, assuming that one’s opponents are motivated by bad faith and hesitating to agree on basic facts and the meaning of evidence.”

Common citizens and media personalities alike echo these polarizing behaviors in social media. Most people simply give in to the tendency to categorize, simplify and disparage any point of view with which they disagree, rather than to engage in debate. The tendency isn’t mitigated by intelligence. More intelligent, better-educated participants simply provide longer, more articulate, yet still-divisive replies. 

Yet, the foundation for transcending this paradigm has been laid here in Rochester. We are tracking toward success because leaders have listened to affected constituents, created action plans, communicated effectively and delivered on their promises. 

We live in a community where a Democratic mayor and a Republican county executive (both of whom succeeded members of their own party) are working together to support real estate development and infrastructure investment in downtown Rochester. Commercial buildings are being converted to residences in response to demographic trends. And a series of blockbuster projects are changing the downtown landscape. 

Our anti-poverty initiative began and has been led locally. An integrated effort by local government, volunteer organizations, churches and service providers is making great strides toward reducing poverty in Rochester and Monroe County. The United Way of Greater Rochester’s Blueprint for Change has outlined a funding strategy that has improved the lives of thousands of city and county residents. 

The effort to provide our inner-city children with education options other than failing public schools was organized and driven by local business leaders. With greater freedom from government-imposed bureaucracy and regulations, a dozen area charter schools are achieving success in closing the academic gap between our urban schools and their suburban peers. 

The business community, coming together under the auspices of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, has laid out priorities for 2017. Among these are better education, more affordable health care, improved infrastructure and tax reform. These efforts will gain support from positive microeconomic trends in photonics, craft brewing, high-technology startups and a thriving entrepreneurial community. 

These examples provide us with a template for local leadership. To achieve inclusive growth, local leaders have transcended the polemic of party politics and focused on delivering results. 

Working together, Rochester can spark a new era of inclusive growth for the entire community. 

John Calia is a chairman in the Vistage Executive Leadership Program and author of “The Reluctant CEO: Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul.”2/3/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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