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Sarah Davis: Helping the Region Flourish

Sarah Davis’s inherently helpful nature connects her immediately to the Finger Lakes, but it’s her blend of humility and commitment that fuels her success. As the executive director of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA), her fresh approach and knack for bringing people together are helping the region flourish.

Sarah Davis at work

There is a lot of opportunity to have an impact on the community and on the world from here, perhaps more than if you’re in a major metropolitan area. It’s the local politics and the local initiatives that really matter,” she explains about why a tight-knit community allows her to witness the effect of SCIDA’s efforts.

The Importance of Community

Community means a great deal to Sarah who grew up in West Monroe, a town of less than 5,000 people north of Syracuse. She moved to the Finger Lakes region where her husband was raised. His family, including father-in-law Mike Davis, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 840, share the same sense of duty to give back to the community.

Davis Family

They have such dedication, not just to their family, but to their community. You can see that in all the work they do. So, for me being part of their family is a good fit. I feel the same way of wanting to constantly do better by the people in the area. It’s great because we can visit them and talk about work, and there’s this sense that they get it.”

When the executive director position at SCIDA opened up at the beginning of 2021, it was her in-laws who urged her to apply even though Sarah had not held a similar role before. “I think there was some sense that bringing in fresh eyes might be a good thing. I had a passion for working with businesses and trying to make the community better. I wanted to see if I could put that to the test here.”

Understanding Politics and Entrepreneurship

After earning her undergraduate degree in English literature and Francophone studies from St. Lawrence University, Sarah went on for a master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She also gained practical political experience as constituent liaison for the New York State 127th Assembly District; intern in Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s office; and campaign intern for the New York State Democratic Committee.

Sarah then started working for Genius New York, a Syracuse-based incubator concentrating on the development of uncrewed aerial vehicles—more commonly known as drones—and their affiliated technologies like imagery, navigation and commercial uses. The position allowed her to leverage the experience she amassed working within the governmental realm to assist the start-ups in the program.

She has combined this background in politics and entrepreneurship to help chart the future of Seneca County. The first things she did at SCIDA was to talk with the local business community to assess their needs and aspirations. Along with the area’s major employers like pump manufacturer ITT Goulds or del Lago Resort, Sarah started assisting numerous small businesses in the county with a workforce under twenty employees. “It’s so rewarding working with those companies because the people tend to be so entrepreneurial and driven. They’re often here because they have significant ties to the area. It’s nice to see them choosing to stay here and grow their businesses.”

To enable their success, Sarah and her staff work hard at building and expanding partnerships. “I’ve been very lucky to be able to build partnerships with other leaders in the area. The Chamber of Commerce has been a great partner. The county government has been a great partner in trying to make sure we’re doing everything we can. It’s those relationships that really make this place somewhere I want to stay and raise my family.”

Developing the Willard Site

A centerpiece of SCIDA’s efforts is to help with biggest development opportunity in the county – the former Willard Treatment Center site with its 550 acres of waterfront property. Like the closure of the Seneca Army Depot, the center’s closure meant local businesses lost revenue coming from the facility. Sarah feels the development of the site should focus on the long-term benefit of the community, as well as the short-term needs of local businesses. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to redefine the community in a way that hopefully will be much stronger in the future.”


The project requires the resources of local, state and federal agencies, as well as private industry and community organizations, to build out a project that will take decades to complete. It will also require SCIDA and other groups to cooperate to fully realize the benefits to the community, something Sarah believes requires an open mind and humility to accept others’ input.

I think to truly collaborate with others means that you have to come to the table relatively humble, just willing to do whatever you can to contribute and understand that there are going to be people in the room much smarter than you who have done similar things before. It’s a very, very rewarding experience when you feel like you’ve done it successfully,” she says.

Always a Learner

This open-mindedness is part of her commitment to continued learning through experience. As she works to help the business and residents of Seneca County, she’s constantly learning information about the region, its people, and their businesses. And she doesn’t see her informal education ending anytime soon. “People make it their mission to be constantly learning, and I hope I’ll be one of them. It’s really just understanding that nobody is perfect, nobody knows everything. There’s always more to learn.”

At the end of the day, she adheres to motto of her Maxwell School alma mater — the Athenian oath, in which citizens of the ancient Greek city vowed to leave the city “greater, better and more beautiful” than when they arrived. “I’ve really taken that to heart,” she concludes. “Whatever happens, I’ll consider it a success as long as we’re better off than we were before.”

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