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Young People Are Buying In To This Region: And It’s Getting Leaders In Return

Tracy Verrier never thought she would stay put in one place for a long time. Calling back to her days in undergrad and graduate school, the economic developer by trade said that she never expected to find a community or region that sparked her passion quite like Central New York.

Tracy VerrierShe serves as executive director for both the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce, as well as Cayuga Economic Development Agency. Verrier has been in that capacity since 2018, and can now add navigating a pandemic to the list of experiences she’s gained in that time. But choosing the Finger Lakes and Central New York to plant roots wasn’t as much an intentional choice, as it was something that simply happened.

Like so many of the innovators and change-makers in this region it all started with a chance encounter. A friend brought her to Cayuga County for dinner and a show at the Auburn Public Theater. “I went to school in Syracuse, had lived in Virginia, and New Jersey — I was a bit of a nomad — moved every two or three years from the time I was 16,” Verrier recalled. She accepted a job in June 2013 as an economic development specialist for CEDA.

Cayuga County structure provides a unique approach to economic development. The County is one of only a few jurisdictions in New York State that combines the promotional role of the Chamber of Commerce with the business and job development role of an economic development authority. Tracy’s work there was a natural progression to leading CEDA, and then being selected to head the Cayuga Chamber in mid-2018. “I always heard people say that Central New York is a bit of a magnet– you come here and you never want to leave,” she added. “I was sure I would be ready to move on after a couple of years but instead, I fell in love with the Finger Lakes –it’s beauty, it’s sense of community and all it has to offer – including a growing economy.”’

It’s been eight years since Verrier came to Cayuga County, and now she has fully-planted roots in the community. “I saw private developers making investments in the community, and it really piqued my interest. I realized ‘This is where I want to be’,” Verrier remembered. “That first year I really just spent a lot of time exploring. It wasn’t a hard sell at all.”

That initial private sector investment, which drew her in to the Finger Lakes is precisely what keeps the economic wheels turning. It’s a combination of passion for a region, as well as its natural characteristics that have even resulted in young people choosing this area to plant their own roots.

Cayuga County is one of the largest counties in the Finger Lakes, geographically and population wise. It’s where the Finger Lakes-Cayuga, Skaneateles and Owasco lakes-meet the Great Lakes-Lake Ontario. Tracy refers to the region as a boomerang community with young people leaving and coming back to settle down. “Maybe they grew up here, left for college, moved around a little, and now they’re starting families,” Verrier added. “They’re coming back to their roots. You see that in a lot of the activity now around here. There’s a lot of reasons why entrepreneurs and young professionals would want to come here — or return — especially after the pandemic. Whether that means you’re looking for a different speed, or a little air space.” The quality of life indicators are also strong here, which is a benefit when comparing other regions to this one. The diversification of retail and entertainment, some big city amenities, natural spaces like parks and lakes, museums, wineries, breweries, and a growing art scene all contribute. “You get a little bit of everything and the best of both worlds in this region,” she continued. “It’s also a sense of community, a real sense of pride. It was a draw for me here, and I know it’s been a draw for others.”

As for the future, Verrier says the region is moving in the right direction. “Overall, it’s becoming more-and-more vibrant. Everything is at your fingertips, rural and urban all in a short drive,” she added. The region’s economic future holds a mix of elements — blending the traditional manufacturing components with modern day tourism.

“This region has a history of innovation. Especially in agriculture and manufacturing,” she recalled, thinking back to the period when she first started learning about Cayuga and the Finger Lakes. “The economy has shifted and continued getting into new markets, and that’s reflective of the innovation taking place here every day. I think it’s something that comes very, very naturally to our economy.” Verrier says the region still has a strong base of agriculture and manufacturing, but watching the shift to tourism and a creative economy was paramount to unlocking potential.

“As the world progresses, so must we,” she continued. “Despite how hard of a shift this has been during the pandemic, we have seen some good signs.” One of those good signs is continued innovation. Verrier looks at the diversity of business owners in the region and holds that high. She contends, it’s a very good sign that young people, like her, are choosing the Finger Lakes and Central New York. “It’s in our blood to innovate and survive. The next generation is here, and we’re starting to see some of the benefits of that energy.”

The energy she brings to Cayuga County is also important. Verrier admits that the dual-role she holds can look daunting or overwhelming from the outside. It comes with a set of challenges. “We have a number of different boards of directors, so I have something like 60 bosses,” she joked. “I’m not going to say it’s the right model for everybody. At the end of the day I can very clearly see why this model makes sense. Especially for us here in Cayuga County.”

That said, the benefits are obvious. “The joint venture is really more administrative in nature than anything else,” Verrier added. “It allows us to share some resources, share some staff, which really just increases the capacity of both organizations. We have aligned missions and overlapping audiences so this makes it much easier to make sure the programming of both is aligned and moving in the same direction.”

Economic development — whether it means retaining an existing employer, or securing a new one — comes down to problem-solving. Cayuga’s approach allows for latitude to accomplish both. “If a business has a problem or needs something – we want to help,” Verrier said. “We have an array of programs and resources under our roof, so even if it’s not, we know where it is and can help the business or prospective developer find what they need.”

– By Josh Durso, News Director,, Inc.

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