PSS Spring '11

Plugging the Brain Drain

HWS alums partner to keep young professionals in Upstate New York State

It's called the "brain drain," and it's no secret that every year Upstate New York loses young people to more appealing (and warmer) destinations like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. But several young alums are partnering to make the Empire State more appealing to young professionals.

In 2007, former New York First Lady Silda Wall Spitzer organized a summit at SUNY Cortland to come up with programming that would create job and internship opportunities for recent college graduates in the hope that they would stay upstate. An outgrowth of that summit was the creation of the New York Young Leaders Congress, a volunteer organization made up of 15 young professionals in upstate working to attract and retain young talent. In 2009, Jeremy Cooney '04 was recognized for his work in the Rochester young professional community and was appointed to the Young Leaders Congress by Governor David Paterson. Today, he leads the volunteer organization as its chair.

Over the course of four years, the Young Leaders Congress has grown into a statewide coalition. In 2010, it rebranded itself as "We Live NY" and is now managed by a steering committee of 50 young professionals from both upstate and downstate communities. In addition to Cooney, Lou Guard '07 representing the Finger Lakes Region and Garry Mendez III '96 representing Manhattan, also serve on the steering committee.

In March of this year, the steering committee presented the "2011 We Live NY Summit" at Cornell University in Ithaca. The summit brought together more than 500 young professionals from across the state for a three-day conference with more than 30 workshops and 60 speakers. Topics addressed at the summit included business and entrepreneurship development, government and civic engagement, and neighborhood revitalization, among others.

In order to plan this massive event, We Live NY partnered with a Syracuse-based young professional group, "40 Below," to organize the programming. Benjamin Sio '07, who coordinates 40 Below, was the architect of the summit. Knowing he needed a sophisticated marketing and public relations strategy for the summit, Sio partnered with his classmate, David Grome '07 and his agency, Eric Mower & Associates, to brand the summit and promote its importance to the young professional movement. Grome's hard work paid off, and the summit caught the attention of several colleges and universities, including HWS, which budgeted funds to send ten students to the summit.

In addition to the summit, We Live NY has partnered with other statewide organizations, like the New York State Urban Council and Empire State Development Corporation, for initiatives that help tackle the brain drain. For example, We Live NY has a Young Professional Group Start Up Program, which provides resources and connectivity to communities looking to form a young professional group. It also created and manages a comprehensive jobs and internship website portal (www., which is a one-stopshop for employment and lifestyle searches by region in New York. We Live NY is the creator of the Livable Communities Capacity Grant program, which offers $2,000 block-grants to young professional groups seeking to undertake projects to enhance urban centers. For more information on We Live NY, visit its website

"Without question, there is more work to be done in the fight against the 'brain drain,'" says Cooney. "But by continuing to form meaningful partnerships, We Live NY strives to make New York State a more attractive place to live, work, learn, and play."

Jeremy Cooney '04 is an attorney and vice president for development of the YMCA of Greater Rochester. David Grome '07 is a senior account executive with Eric Mower & Associates in Rochester. Lou Guard '07 is a third-year law student at Cornell Law School. Garry Mendez III '96 is a communications consultant at Insight Capitalists through Rockefeller Consulting in New York City. Benjamin Sio '07 is the director of sustainable infrastructure and policy development with CenterState C.E.O. in Syracuse.


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