Marsha Henderson Reflects on Buffalo Niagara Partnership's Past, Future | Business
As the Buffalo Niagara Partnership marks the 20th anniversary of its 1993 formation, we’re catching up with former Partnership board chairs to get their thoughts on the organization’s leading role in Buffalo Niagara’s evolving economy. Today, we’re sitting down with Marsha Henderson, who served as Partnership board chair from 2003-2005 while she was WNY district president at KeyBank. This is the first part in our series which will run throughout 2013.
How did you first become involved with the Partnership?
When I became president of KeyBank, it was a natural for me to get involved with the region’s leading business organization. I was invited to serve on the board soon after joining KeyBank but candidly, I was skeptical of the organization’s impact but I soon came to appreciate the work it does. That caused me to get more involved; I chaired the government affairs committee and then joined the executive committee. I felt my time was well spent to help have an impact on the issues that were important to me – and my company.
What motivated you to serve as board chair?
I gradually became more involved as I saw more and more capacity to enact change. I hoped to further the organization’s goals and have a personal impact on the outcomes. I was particularly passionate about advancing the interests of women and minority owned businesses and giving them an opportunity to be “in the tent” with the Partnership and our region’s business community. I took particular pride in being the Partnership’s first and only woman board chair – so far!
How is Buffalo Niagara different now than when your term began?
Back then, the Medical Campus was still more of a vision than a reality and UB2020 was just beginning to emerge. There was a whole different set of economics back then, both globally and locally. While some of the mainstays in our regional economy have changed, we’ve evolved such that we made it through the current national recession with a modest impact. We’ve taken countless steps to set ourselves up for the future and leverage the attention that’s been paid to the University and medical research for years to come.
What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment(s) at the helm of the Partnership?
The Partnership was invaluable in taking UB2020 from an idea, to a regional priority, to something that is happening – and continues to grow. The region acted with one voice on UB2020 as a priority because the Partnership got the right people working together. Without the Partnership and the Regional Agenda, UB2020 would not have become a major focus for business, government, and economic development leaders. The Partnership is always at the center of the issues most important to our region.
During my tenure, there were also hundreds of smaller issues where the Partnership served important roles behind the scenes. It’s hard for the community to understand what a valuable role the Partnership plays by addressing issues that don’t necessarily make headlines, but are still important. The Partnership is consistently asked to facilitate private sector thought on public issues and opportunities - that’s an important capacity that no other organization can provide.
Why was the Partnership able to have such an impact on UB2020?
The Partnership exists to grow private investment and jobs in Buffalo Niagara by bringing together business leaders to work on a cohesive set of goals. That’s exactly what the situation called for, and exactly what the Partnership delivered. We were asking the state to make a major commitment with the hope of achieving private sector multipliers. The Partnership has a strong history of pushing and prodding the state to be efficient in the way it spends money, so when the Partnership got behind UB2020, it became easy for Albany to see that UB2020 was an investment not just another opportunity to spend money.
What message do you have for Buffalo Niagara business leaders in 2013?
The job isn’t done, and it never is. We’ve made great progress, and it’s important to support the Partnership’s ability to focus on longer term opportunities. We all want to see immediate results, but there are no quick wins, and true change takes time. After almost a decade of work, the Medical Campus is happening, and with another decade of private sector leadership, it will continue to pay off.
More than anything, we need to focus on long term, high impact opportunities. The approach is working, but it will continue to take time. In 2004, UB2020 was only a nascent faculty idea; today we’re building buildings and improving our health delivery system. Together, we need to continue to stay the course.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for Buffalo Niagara in 2013 and beyond?
We have a huge opportunity for continued, and increased collaboration. All organizations, especially the Partnership, need to work together in making tough, smart choices. It’s everything from workforce development to business development to overall economic growth. There’s an enormous opportunity to make smart choices to consolidate public resources and spend money for the greatest impact. We need to continue adding private sector thought to Buffalo Niagara’s issues and opportunities.