SUNY BEST focuses on building business opportunitiesTweet
Binghamton University is leading the effort to energize the area’s economic development by forming the SUNY Business and Education Cooperative of the Southern Tier.
SUNY BEST is a volunteer group that works to forge alliances, support the workforce needs of businesses and provide outreach and information for companies.
“It really is an informed network of agencies, organizations and companies trying to work together to enhance the economic vitality of the region,” said Tom Kowalik, director of Continuing Education and Outreach and SUNY BEST facilitator.
Kowalik put SUNY BEST together a year ago, modeling it after a group in the Capital District.
“I got a group of people together from some of the local higher-education institutions and we started officially meeting last fall,” he said. “Everyone said, ‘This is a good idea. Now let’s get others on board.’ So we invited economic development (groups) and businesses. Every month we get bigger.”
SUNY BEST now features more than 65 people representing 50 organizations. Member organizations range from SUNY schools such as Broome Community College, Cornell University, SUNY Delhi and SUNY Oneonta to state groups such as the Department of Labor and the Business Incubator Association to local companies such as BizLife Ventures and IOXUS. Its range extends to Corning, Cortland, Cobleskill and Delhi.
The group has already become active on the state level by offering suggestions to the Governor’s Task Force on Diversifying the New York State Economy through Industry-Higher Education Partnerships.
SUNY BEST meets monthly at rotating sites. Meetings feature presentations that relate to business/industry issues or showcase local and regional economic initiatives. For example, the Dec. 2 meeting will take place at the University Downtown Center. Bob Stezzi, founder/owner of Stezzi Training and Consulting, will discuss “Turning Your Profession Into Your Business.”
Kowalik develops the presentation topics and decides on speakers after consulting with SUNY BEST members.
“I don’t have a title; I moderate the group,” he said. “I pulled the group together, we built a listserv and we built a website that we are moderating through my office. It’s a self-governing group that I keep pushing along.”
Kowalik said he was surprised to receive survey and informal feedback showing how important the face-to-face meetings have become for SUNY BEST members. Those relationships are now laying the foundation for groups to give advice to one another on a variety of topics.
“Many people have communicated electronically, but don’t know each other personally,” he said. “It’s been valuable for them to meet and develop personal relationships. It’s the informal networking that we used to take for granted before technology blossomed. They feel there is sufficient value to getting together on a regular basis.”
As SUNY BEST grows and members in Binghamton and Ithaca see what is happening in Oneonta and Delhi, for example, Kowalik hopes partnerships can develop and SUNY’s economic influence on the region can be emphasized.
“The chancellor has stated that SUNY can play a role as one of the economic engines of the state,” he said. “This is another way that Binghamton University can be perceived as a leader in the region. That’s important to me personally because I’d like to see Binghamton University acknowledged for the role it plays in economic development in all facets, from workforce development to the consulting work that faculty do with local industry to technology transfer and incubators.
“This is another way to get the community to recognize how vital SUNY is to the community.”