Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

New Economic Development Director Ryan Davis’s Love of Ontario County Shines Bright

Ryan Davis

Remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy clicks her heels and says: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”? Phelps resident Ryan Davis never needed to be transported to a magical land to learn that lesson. In fact, he’s a walking billboard for cherishing and nurturing your roots, specifically Ontario County. 

Ryan believes this love for the Finger Lakes area was one of the deciding factors in his appointment as the new Director of Economic Development for Ontario County. A search committee was involved in a competitive process to find the replacement for his predecessor, Mike Manikowski, who retired after almost 40 years. “I think what came through during the interviews is my passion for Ontario County. That can’t be taught, and I have it in spades,” says Ryan.

He expects to bring a fresh perspective to economic development efforts, backed by the support of a “department filled with absolute professionals and fantastic talent” as well as Mike Manikowski as both a consultant and door opener. Ryan remarks that, “The Rolodex Mike walks around with in his head is incredible. It’s important to get the history to know where you came from in order to get to where you’re going.” 

Ryan’s views are grounded in a deep understanding of working men and women. His last job was President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 840, an union organization his family has been involved in for decades. “I represent working people and that’s an important relationship. In order to grow, those who sign the front of a paycheck rely very heavily on those who sign the back.”

Ryan DavisHe also has a keen interest in education and community service, both of which he sees as prerequisites for economic development. A graduate of Midlakes High School and SUNY Geneseo, he served on the Board of Education for Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District, including five years as President. In the late 1990’s, he worked as a New York State Senate intern for former state Sen. Michael Nozzolio in constituent relations and bill research. 

One of the reasons Ryan is so passionate about Ontario County is its small communities and the people who actively step up to make their towns and villages better. He talks about money that is routinely raised within a few days to support Phelps theater productions and sports teams. Ryan was honored to be a part of the community that came together during Covid-19 to provide dinners and groceries for thousands of people in Ontario County. 

A Broader Reach for Economic Development

“At its essence, economic development is about community building, placemaking, talent retention and recruitment. We’re going to focus and lead with these because they are so important. We are not reinventing anything, just keeping the focus clear,” Ryan explains.

To that end, one of the county’s core initiatives is to ensure economic development encompasses the whole county. “Paying attention to what’s going on in the smaller towns is something that the county is very interested in having us focus on. We’re going to take the success stories from places like Canandaigua and apply that knowledge across the entire county.”

He believes that people often have a misconception of what economic development does. “They think it’s about giving away incentives to get a business to relocate. That’s not what our story is here. It’s about making the people who live here want to stay and turning visitors into residents. We want to make this a place where people want to stick around.” To that end, his department will also be working closer with the county administration on initiatives like affordable housing. 

Learning More About Ontario County

Currently, Ryan is spending significant time listening and observing in his early days in the role. “I’ve been talking to other economic developers, the chambers, different business owners, and elected officials. Some of them may know me through the school board or my work with the IBEW, so it’s reintroducing myself to them in this new role.” 

He also is getting to know the county in a different way. “I’ve lived here my entire life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve paid much attention as I was driving. I feel very strongly that going to a place is a lot different than going through a place.” 

For example, Ryan spent a couple of hours driving around with Gorham Town Supervisor, Fred Lightfoote. “I’ve been through Gorham a number of different times, but it was fascinating to go up and down different roads and talk with farms and businesses there. I really enjoyed listening to them brag about themselves because they should be proud of what they do. It gives me an opportunity to learn a little bit more about them and also allows them to learn a little bit about me.”

Some companies have surprised Ryan. He has known Phelps-based Triplett Machines for years but recently was given a tour by Doug Triplett Jr, the President of the company. A group of workers had their computers open with machines running behind them as they worked out how to create a part from a hunk of metal. Doug told him that eventually that part would be blasted into outer space. 

“Blasted into outer space from Phelps, New York? There’s such a great deal of power coming from Phelps and hearing that,” Ryan says. “You kind of puff your chest out a little bit with that information. I have absolutely nothing to do with this piece of metal but right down the road from my house, it’s going to get blasted into outer space,” he says with pride.

While Ontario County may be sending things up into space, Ryan doesn’t ever see himself leaving the county. Instead, he hopes to make a long-lasting contribution in economic development and retire many years down the road. “I can’t see myself leaving this county. When I retire, my kids will bring my grandkids to visit me somewhere in Phelps. I don’t ever plan on leaving Ontario County, I just love it too much.”

LOCATE Finger Lakes is a Finger Lakes economic development initiative designed to assist and foster collaboration among the established Finger Lakes economic development efforts with targeted, proactive, marketing communications and networking. LOCATE Finger Lakes is focused on directing local, national and international business leaders to Finger Lakes information and inspire them to look closely at the region’s assets enabling their businesses, their families and their employees’ families to thrive.

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She is founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio, a creative agency for food, beverage and agriculture brands. Ballatori also owns Port 100 Cowork and Metro Collective which helps Upstate NY shared space operators activate their workspaces.

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