It’s not often that a region’s top business leader publicly recognizes the importance of justice and equality, but Western New York is fortunate to have one who understands that prosperity depends upon more than where the minimum wage is set.
Dottie Gallagher-Cohen is the president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the region’s largest business advocacy group. She is also, to be clear, a former colleague at The Buffalo News, where she was previously senior vice president for marketing. But it wouldn’t have mattered where she came from. The fact is she has shown that she understands something a lot of business leaders don’t: There’s an economic value to opposing bias.
Gallagher-Cohen explained her thinking in about as declarative a way possible. As keynote speaker at the annual luncheon of the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York, her comments could have made this business leader a candidate for the NFJC’s director.
The organization is “dedicated to overcoming racism, bias and discrimination by building understanding, respect and trust through education, advocacy and community involvement,” according to its website (nfjcwny.org/). That stance has an impact beyond mere altruism, Gallagher-Cohen told the gathering.
“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.”
The proof is in the numbers. As Gallagher-Cohen observed, to attract a creative young workforce today, communities need to be seen as welcoming to a diverse population, including gays, racial minorities and other subsets of the general population.
“The conventional wisdom of [moving] to a city to get a job … has changed,” she said. “Young people now say where am I going to live, and I’ll find a job when I get there.”
It’s happening here. For the first time in decades, she told the group, data show Buffalo is increasing its population of young people between the ages of 20 and 34, and at a faster rate than the national average – “really a sea change for us.”
Gallagher-Cohen didn’t cause that to happen, but she understands the importance of it to Buffalo. And with her comments, she not only encouraged the NFJC in its crucial work, but sent a message to the entire Western New York business community: If you’re not on board already, you need to be. This is not only the right thing to do, but it will make a difference to the prosperity of Western New York for decades to come.