10 Reasons Why…@SyracuseFirst Is Helping Syracuse’s Future

Have you ever walked around Syracuse and wondered how you can help make it a better place? Have you found local businesses that you love and want to be sure they prosper? Are you like many and proud to be from Syracuse? Well, there is a great organization trying to help support local businesses and their name is Syracuse First.

I may not still reside in Syracuse but I always love visiting when I can and I am glad to see groups like this helping the community and businesses that form it. In fact, the blog title is because even though I live in North Carolina, I still carry some Syracuse pride with me wherever I go (I am always in a Syracuse State Of Mind). Due to work and family obligations here, I won’t be returning anytime soon to live but if things were different, I would in a heartbeat and hopefully support groups like this. Heck, my vacation destination isn’t Myrtle Beach or Cancun, it is Syracuse, NY when I have a choice (though most of my time is spent in the Bridgeport area with my family).

But enough about me. I reached out to my friends at Syracuse First and asked for an explanation of what they do. I have heard of some of their activities such as the Cuse Mob and I wanted to know more about them. The following is an interview Jamie R. White who helps with their external communications and someone I consider to be a great Twitter friend. Jamie and I have had in-depth conversations about why we love the area and I thought he was the perfect voice to explain the organization. So without further ado, here are:

10 Reasons Why…@SyracuseFirst Is Helping Syracuse’s Future

1. Who are you and what is your role in Syracuse First? Why did you decide to work with them?

Hey Chuck! First of all, I have to say that we need more people with your passion and vigor for creating a better community. Your energy rubs off in a very positive way. My name is Jamie and I handle most of the external communications for SyracuseFirst (social media, blogging, traditional media… you get the picture). I met Chris Fowler, our Executive Director, about a three years ago in a coffee shop downtown (Freedom of Espresso). He explained his new project, SyracuseFirst and the power of buying and thinking locally, to me and I was instantly hooked. The rest is history.

2. Could you explain more about Syracuse First and it’s impact on the Syracuse community? What are the goals for the organization?

Officially – SyracuseFirst is a network of locally-owned, independent businesses advocating for thinking, buying, and being local. We want to shift market share to these businesses. Unofficially – it’s about much more than just buying stuff. It’s a way of reimagining (and reconfiguring) the economy and our role in it. Connecting people and business by making it personal, thinking about our economic decision-making and participation. The economy should work for us and our needs, we don’t want to be working for the economy.

In the words of our national partners, BALLE, we want to create a local living economy. The guiding principles behind a local living economy include: thinking local first, increasing self-reliance, building community, working with nature and our natural resources, celebrating diversity, and measuring what matters (happiness, knowledge, creativity – not material growth).

3. What can someone do if they or their business would like to get involved? What benefits are there to it?

Businesses and individuals can head to our website for information on how to get involved. For businesses, we’re going to list them on our all locally-owned business directory (only one in the region), work with likeminded businesses (many offer deals or discounts to other members), free tickets to ticketed events, opportunities to increase their visibility through partnerships we’ve created with local media, complimentary digital communications consultations, and the chance to activate their business and employees as agents for positive change in the community. As you may have heard, we recently entered into a partnership with CenterState CEO, a leading business organization in New York. Because of this collaboration we’ll be expanding programming and benefits in the coming months.

4. Syracuse First recently held it’s first ever CuseMob event. How did it go and any news/hints about when there may be another CuseMob event?

Cuse Mob was an enormous success. Seriously, it was amazing. Similar cash mobs have been held nationwide with average participation around 30-50 people. On May 5th, 250 dedicated Syracusans showed up at Craft Chemistry to support locally-owned business. That level of involvement illustrates the excitement for thinking locally in Syracuse. We’re very excited for the next Cuse Mob, but as to when and where… in the spirit of the event, we’re keeping it spontaneous.

5. Beside the CuseMob events, are there any other events planned for Syracuse First or that they are taking part in?

Absolutely. We’re holding our monthly business networking event, Local Thirst, on the patio outside of the Tech Garden in July. It’ll be a sort-of mini version of our main event/fundraiser – the Buy Local Bash. There will be local food and drink tastings as well as other business vendors connecting with the public – it’ll be a great time. We’re also starting a new series called Westcott Wednesdays. In fact, I just wrote a blog post about it the other day. The goal here is to connect culture and commerce, to bring people from across the region to the wonderfully diverse Westcott neighborhood – think of it like a street festival or block party – businesses will offer food/drink specials, people will mill around the area, and we’re hoping to include art and music into the mix. That event series will be held on the last Wednesday of each month.

6. There seems to be some negativity about Syracuse in regards to the current economical/job environment. What would you say to those people who speak negatively about it and what is your opinion of Syracuse as a business community?

There’s no getting around the fact that the national economy is in rough shape. We’ve heard about big banks failing, the stock market plunging, and national corporations slashing workforces. However, there’s an important piece of the conversation that seems be left out when we talk about how to fix it – many locally-owned, independent businesses are privately owned (not publically traded), community banks are thriving, and small businesses provide meaningful employment. The solution is already in our community. Entrepreneurs, if given the means to succeed, are a force of economic resiliency – we’ll be able to weather the rough seas of national economic downturns with greater success by supporting locally-owned, indpendent businesses.

Syracuse has an excellent business community. Along with the outstanding business leadership that is in place, educational institutions (SU, LeMoyne, OCC) and business incubators (The Tech Garden, South Side Innovation Center) are cultivating a vibrant and dynamic sense of ownership and entrepreneurship. Take companies like Empire Brewing Company (www.empirebrew.com) (restaurant/brewery) and the Genesee Grande (hotel/hospitality). Two businesses that couldn’t be more different yet both are expanding and growing. The Genesee Grande just opened a new hotel (Hotel Skyler) within the last 8-12 months, and Empire will be expanding their brewing capabilities by adding a facility in Cazenovia.

I think this is the beginning of a very special time in Syracuse and Central New York, and our locally-owned businesses will be the ones to lead that charge.

7. If I were a business owner and considering opening or moving a business to Syracuse, explain to me why it is a wise investment? What if I am just Joe Smith wanting to move his family into the area?

Like I mentioned, it’s an exciting time in Syracuse. With ample support services, cost efficient space, and a growing density of downtown residents and shoppers – now is the best time to start a business, or move a business, into Syracuse. As for families or people moving here: Syracuse is what you make of it. It’s big enough find your own niche and small enough to have a direct impact and make change. Additionally, programs like Say Yes make our city an excellent option for young families.

8. What are your favorite businesses to frequent as a Syracuse resident?

There are too many to list here, but since I live in the downtown area and tend to walk as much as possible, I frequently make trips to Empire Brewing Company, Cafe Kubal, Middle Ages, Lao Village (great thai food) – just to name a couple. One of the best parts of living here is that each neighborhood has it’s own unqiue character and community of businesses that suit their residents.

9. Is it true that there is a Syracuse First mobile app in the works? How can I follow Syracuse First if I am active with social media?

Yes! It’s a web app (a mobile friendly version of our website). A reliable 25% of our web hits come from mobile devices, so it made sense to have a site that worked for that growing base of users. Visit www.syracusefirst.org from your smartphone and you’ll be redirected to the mobile site. It functions much like the full website – let us know how you like it!

Our friends at CenterState CEO also launched their “connect” app – a true mobile app which lists all SyracuseFirst members – a great tool for connecting consumers and businesses. Here’s a link to that app.

RE social media. We’re primarily camped out on Facebook, Twitter (@SyracuseFirst), and instagram (SyracuseFirst). We’re starting to dabble with Pinterest, and we have a few YouTube videos – the plan is to expand our use of those channels in the near future. Social connecting via the web will probably never finish morphing from one form to the next, we like to think we’ll be out there trying new things.

10. I want to thank you for your time. This last question is all yours. What are your final words in regards to Syracuse First?

One thing I’d like to impart: The power of each of us as individuals can’t be underestimated. We can choose how we want our community to look and feel, and we can start by thinking locally first.

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