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Working Together, We Can Sieze The Opportunities Of Change

More than 1,000 business and community leaders came together at CenterState CEO’s Annual Meeting to consider the many opportunities facing our businesses and region and their impact on our future.

CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson told a packed Oncenter ballroom that opportunity is at the center of the region’s successes and challenges. Opportunity awaits in every area: business, industry, community and leadership. Working together, it’s what has, does and will make the region change, thrive and grow.

But first, we must tackle challenging and complicated issues head on, Simpson said. “We must remain a team to seize the opportunities of change,” he said. To capture the potential of this opportunity, partners must have a shared vision and commitment to collaboration.

With numerous downtown vacancies, many leaders recognized the opportunity to work collaboratively, ultimately transforming downtown Syracuse from community scourge to the fastest growing neighborhood in the entire metro area.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses the recently passed New York state budget at the start of the 2014 CenterState CEO Annual Meeting at the Convention Center at Oncenter.

CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson highlights the regions’ accomplishments and challenges at the Annual Meeting, including downtown Syracuse’s residential boom of more than 2,000 occupants.


Business leaders have also created opportunities in the form of an ever-growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. CEO’s partners in private business and higher education understood the power of this sector and together seeded and cultivated it.

Watch Rob Simpson’s and Ben Baldanza’s remarks; view the Business of the Year Winners and Startup Labs videos; and read CenterState CEO’s annual report. »

The region’s ability to work together as a team, sharing a vision and unanimity of purpose has worked. The community is now in a position where new opportunities are on the horizon.

Two of these opportunities, Government Modernization and Interstate 81, hold great potential for the area.

The Consensus commission on government modernization represents the most sweeping and inclusive effort to date to re-imagine government in Onondaga County. However, circumstance demands far more than a study to truly seize this opportunity. Leaders must go one step further to differentiate the county and take collective action.

Likewise, the decision around the future of Interstate 81 represents one of the most immediate opportunities the region has to reshape its physical landscape, to enhance connectivity within and among the city and suburbs, and to enable economic development. The solution must be a monument to the area’s creativity and vision and most important, to the community’s willingness to work together.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo opened the meeting by discussing the recently passed budget, tax cuts, the Regional Economic Development Councils and his efforts to further improve New York state’s business climate. His priorities include:

  • Controlling costs by reducing the cost of labor; restructuring the pension plan; and managing bureaucracy.
  • Tax relief by reducing corporate income taxes; reducing the estate tax; providing property tax relief for low- and middle-income homeowners; providing a manufacturers’ property tax credit; and freezing property taxes for homeowners.
  • Economic development by creating Start-Up NY, no taxes (income, sales or property) for 10 years for 64 zones in New York state (59 in Upstate NY).

Keynote Speaker Ben Baldanza, president of Spirit Airlines, spoke of how he took a struggling business and invented an entirely new category in the industry – the first U.S. ULCC – ultra low cost carrier. Under Baldanza’s leadership, Spirit Airlines created opportunity in an industry dominated by global network carriers. Spirit is now America’s fastest growing airline and the second most profitable airline in the world.

Ben Baldanza, president of Spirit Airlines
, delivered several messages about opportunity during his keynote address:

  • Rather than charge more for some services, Spirit offered á la carte options based on what customers valued. “You don’t have to be all things to all people.”
  • Spirit has chosen to “keep it simple” and treat all customers the same. It’s a win-win for the company and the consumer. “Bigger is not necessarily better.”
  • Embrace change but stay true to your business model. Spirit chose to compete on price alone and it’s paying off. Annual revenue has doubled in seven years.


“The key to Spirit’s growth and success is quite simple, we addressed our challenges by creating opportunities and staying true to what makes us unique,” said Baldanza. “We recognized there was a market niche that was underserved and made the necessary changes to our business model to be successful serving that niche. Regardless of industry, businesses must stand apart by recognizing and emphasizing their strengths and by pursuing opportunities that have the potential to deliver lasting success.”

A common thread of opportunity resonated throughout the meeting. Working together we can and must capitalize on opportunities for the advancement of the region.