Colleen C. DiPirro heads one of the region’s largest business groups and helped to “reinvent” it. DiPirro – who has headed the Amherst Chamber of Commerce for 32 years and also is a member of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council – sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to discuss the local business climate. Here is a summary of an interview for the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Meyer: You had mentioned in one of your bios that the 2009 business downturn was among the worst you’ve seen and that a year later, there was still a sense of angst. … Where are we now?
DiPirro: I think with concerns about the “fiscal cliff” and the implementation of health care reform, there’s so much uncertainty that people are very, very frightened about their financial futures.
Meyer: What role do Chambers play these days, because I have to think that the business landscape has become a lot more complex in the last 30 years.
DiPirro: It absolutely has. I can only speak to the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, but we position [ourselves] as a conduit to the prosperity and success of our businesses. We do focus groups on a regular basis with all different demographics. The purpose of those are to identify the voids in the marketplace relative to the access and affordability of services. We bundle those services, and we bring businesses in so they can access them in time-efficient and cost-effective ways.
Meyer: Can we actually make that happen with local decisions? Because as you pointed out, so much goes on in Washington and in Albany.
DiPirro: Any Chamber of Commerce that tells you that they autonomously can change public policy at the federal level is not being totally transparent. Because we can’t. We can work together in collaboration to try and change policy.
Meyer: Earlier this year, you had Sen. [Kirsten E.] Gillibrand in town for a [Chamber-sponsored] event. The senator talked about the need to find ways to get small businesses more access to capital.
DiPirro: Access to capital is critically important, not only to start-up businesses, but second-stage businesses. … When we do our research, we find out many of these businesses that want access to capital have no business plan. So we’re providing them with a business plan so they have a blueprint when they go to the banks, when they go to the [Small Business Administration], they’ve got something tangible they can provide in return for investment.
Meyer: You have been at the forefront [in] talking about the need to reform the way that [local industrial development agencies] do business.
DiPirro: I think the Amherst IDA … did a wonderful job in being able to identify voids as it related to business and industry and to replace the lost steel industry back in the ’70s and ’80s … I think that suburban IDAs should focus on adaptive reuse projects, and we should have one regional entity that deals with the larger regional projects.