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VIEWPOINT: Mohawk Valley employers must support the next generation of professionals

By David Kavney

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The Mohawk Valley is undergoing an expansion that is remarkable in many ways — not least of which is the fact that the nation is just emerging from the historical upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

NBT Bank is experiencing this revitalization firsthand — from financing the development or growth of local businesses to adding our own new hires, including attracting talent from outside the region.

We are not only seeing our customers and other businesses in the region attract talent to the Mohawk Valley — or sometimes, back to the Mohawk Valley — but also seeing this within our own company.

Ryan Gilroy, like many in his classmates from Notre Dame High School in Utica, left the region for an out-of-town college. After earning a degree from the University of Rochester, he stayed in the larger city in western New York because of the thriving economy and lifestyle — something the Mohawk Valley didn’t offer at the time.

But now, 20 years later, we are seeing long-awaited high-tech spaces come to fruition regionally and the downtown development of a state-of-the-art hospital, resulting in the resurgence of downstream businesses and enhanced arts and entertainment. Gilroy saw this, coupled with the start of his own young family, and moved back to Utica. He recently joined NBT Bank as vice president and commercial banking relationship manager.

Gilroy has seen several people in his own personal network coming back to get closer to their family-support structures, as well as being intrigued by these new economic opportunities. Because most of Ryan’s generation left the region in the early 2000s, there are also an increasing number of positions that will need to be backfilled as many from the previous generation retire — making this the perfect time for mid-level professionals to get in on the ground floor of leadership for our community.

If we are going to continue this positive regional momentum, we must keep making our business community and the region more accessible to people who are already here, as well as those who might consider coming to the Mohawk Valley. In other words, it is critical that we both attract and retain. This includes engaging this up-and-coming group of professionals and offering meaningful opportunity as they look to take the next steps in their careers. Employees like Ryan have fresh new ideas and, if we find ways to incorporate their voices, we will all be stronger for having done so.

In addition, we must find ways to connect these employees with the community. At NBT, we encourage participation in local organizations and support individuals with an interest in volunteering. We have seen firsthand how employees who are connected to their communities benefit from an increased sense of fulfillment, as well as the ability to better serve customers by understanding the unique local landscape.

Gilroy, like many others in the same stage of their career, has a drive to make a lasting impact. He is part of a team of local professionals working to launch a community business-resource group of similarly aged, like-minded professionals to create networking and referral resources, economic opportunities, and more to help solidify next generation of local leadership. 

Groups like the United Way’s Emerging Leaders and the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce’s Catalyst are two shining examples of existing ways for young professionals to get involved. Emerging Leaders is designed to support the work of United Way and foster community engagement among the next generation of leaders in the Mohawk Valley. Catalyst is open to all young professionals under 40 who are employed by Greater Utica Chamber member businesses and offers members a place to grow personally and professionally by hosting networking events and volunteer opportunities. 

The professionals who are returning to our region, or coming here for the first time, see not only the opportunities to have a job and raise their families here, but also the chance to be part of the next generation of growth and leadership here. It is our responsibility as employers to involve these professionals, listen to them, and create growth opportunities for them. Doing so will ensure our region’s long-term success.

David Kavney is NBT Bank’s Mohawk Valley regional president and is based at the bank’s Utica Financial Center on Genesee Street. He is responsible for the bank’s commercial-banking business and provides executive leadership for other NBT business units in the Mohawk Valley.