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The National Federation for Just Communities is doing critical anti-bias work to lay the foundation for a return of young, creative professionals to the Buffalo Niagara area, the head of the region’s largest business advocacy organization told NFJC members Wednesday during the group’s annual luncheon.

Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, talked about the importance of the NFJC’s work toward overcoming bias, racism and discrimination in the region.

“You’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart but, really, the work that you’re doing is a difference-maker in terms of whether or not Buffalo will cross over and attain its true potential in a renaissance,” Gallagher-Cohen said in her keynote address in the Buffalo Hyatt Regency.

While the city is witnessing a plethora of new commercial projects in the medical corridor, at Canalside and HarborCenter downtown, Gallagher-Cohen said it’s not just about the projects.

“It’s really about the efforts that are going into trying to revive our economy, So when NFJC talks about creating a just community, where everyone is valued and included, that’s exactly what’s required to get us over the finish line in Buffalo’s renaissance,” she said.

Gallagher-Cohen said that, for the first time in decades, recent data shows Buffalo increasing its population of young people between the ages of 20 and 34.

“We are growing our population at a rate greater than the national average, which is really a sea change for us,” she said.

To sustain the potential of that vibrant and creative young workforce – a socioeconomic class that Gallagher-Cohen described as a key driving force in the economic development of post-industrial cities like Buffalo – it is necessary for the region to cultivate an air of tolerance and diversity. She said they are hallmarks of “creative cities.”

Such places, she said, are marked by a highly talented, educated and skilled workforce; a technological infrastructure that helps fuel an entrepreneurial culture; and a diverse community with a live-and-let-live ethos. Increasingly, she said, young people express that they want to live in places where artists, gay people and other unconventional residents are valued.

“The conventional wisdom of (moving) to a city to get a job ... has changed. Young people now say where am I going to live, and I’ll find a job when I get there,” Gallagher-Cohen said.

“This gradual shift in values is something that makes the work that you do here incredibly important,” she said.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com