The Capital Region’s Unity Problem

June 9, 2015

Albany Hospitality Summit

A wonderful “Hospitality Summit” in Albany made it clear our region will finally get its convention center, with an opening likely in early 2017. Our “space capacity is going to be amazing” when combined with the current Empire Sate Plaza, according to OGS’s Sue Cleary.

But will we make the most of it? Municipal boundary lines have prevented us from acting as a region since the lines were drawn. We have a deeply-seated parochial culture. I grew up in Troy. Schenectady might as well have been a foreign country. It’s just the way we thought.

Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo all have Triple-A stadiums for their regions. We have Single-A….for Troy.

No single city or county holds the lion share of population here and the four cities have consistently carved their own paths. Civic pride is a wonderful thing, but so too is collaboration. Today’s economy demands it.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan told summit attendees that visitors to our region don’t see municipal boundaries. They are just looking to enjoy themselves. There’s nothing small about our region. More than 1.2 million boardings took place last year at our airport and our train station is the ninth busiest in the U.S. We have the brainpower, access to markets, natural resources, arts, a world-class racetrack and the medical facilities to run with the big dogs.

I’d love to see a single website that explains what all our places have to offer, the “what you can do here” site whose website name would be on every hotel reception desk, in every library, in every town and city hall and in every cab in the region. And every municipality would play a role in promoting it.

We’ve seen some cracks in the parochial armor. The Albany-Colonie and Schenectady chambers are merging. Municipalities are doing more with shared services. Our convention and visitors bureau works hard at collaboration.

The biggest challenge is designing a collaborative approach where everyone on board sees the benefit to themselves. This is tricky. This is difficult. But it is in our mutual interest to make it happen.

Unity is a beautiful thing. And it adds to our quality of life.

The writer is a Capital Region native, longtime small business owner and one-time Town Board member.