Read President Rob M. Simpson's 2024 Annual Meeting Remarks

Posted on April 10, 2024

Rob Simpson, CenterState CEO Annual Meeting 2024

CenterState CEO President Rob M. Simpson delivered the following remarks at the 2024 Annual Meeting:


Good afternoon, friends, and thanks so much for joining us for our 2024 CenterState CEO Annual Meeting.

I want to start by thanking each of you for your commitment to this organization, to this community and to the work we have been doing together for years. If ever there was proof that a passionate and dedicated group of community members can change the trajectory of their region the evidence is assembled right here.

Our story is the ultimate underdog story. Once mighty Central New York, port of call along the Erie Canal, bastion of modern industry and manufacturing, walled into a corner as opportunities vanished and challenges mounted. Counted out. But undeterred and relentlessly focused on smashing through those walls and then using each brick to build a stronger, more secure foundation for our future. I am so proud to be a part of this moment, and I hope you are too.

This is in fact my 20th Annual Meeting with CenterState CEO. Many of you have been partners and champions on this journey so you know the prequel. You know the main feature. And you are starting to get a sense of what the sequel has in store for our incredible region.

The truth is, we are killing it. And I’m fired up. Are you? Give me some energy!

Before we get rolling, I need to recognize the team at CenterState CEO. If I could ask our entire staff to please stand up and be recognized. And I mean everyone, especially those who would prefer to stay out of the spotlight and seated – I see you Lisa Sculley-- because none of this, not today’s event, not the work, nor the drastic community transformation, happens without each one of you, and you deserve every ounce of thanks that these people are about to give you.

And since we are thanking people, I want to thank my family, my wife, Corinne, and son, Ben, and my parents and sister in Colorado who will be watching this on YouTube in a day or two and wishing they’d taken the chance to buy a house and move back home when I told them to because this place, right here, is where it’s at.

Seriously, my mom spent the better part of the first 15 years of my career in Syracuse trying to get me to move out to Colorado to be closer to them, now it’s my turn to return the favor. Mom, come home.

Let’s see how that goes over with my sister. Love you, Jen.

Finally, I want to thank Elizabeth Kelly for joining us today and for her leadership on the incredibly important topic of Artificial Intelligence. Here is what I heard, and it's an apt metaphor for today’s program. AI is already transforming our lives, unlocking untold economic and social benefits. Bringing more information to our fingertips faster. Improving our ability to analyze and utilize data. And it is the driving force behind the very demand for memory manufacturing that brought Micron to our doorstep.

The pace at which this technology is evolving is simply astounding. And as with any great disruptive technology, the potential for abuse and unintended consequences is profound.

That’s quite the parallel, is it not? Just like the rapid transformation in our community, and the exponential growth we are about to experience, our ability to harness and shape this coming growth will ultimately be our generation’s legacy. We must simultaneously recognize the inevitability of that growth, while also understanding that human-centered guiderails are needed to ensure that everyone can benefit from progress.

Which begs the obvious question: How?

The same way we rolled our sleeves up and flipped the script for Central New York once already. We get aligned behind a shared set of values and unlock this region’s full and remarkable potential.

Now, I got more blowback for not including a picture of Ben in my last speech than any single controversial thing I’ve said from this podium in the last 20 years. The people have spoken. More Ben, less Rob. Message received, loud and clear.

Earlier this week, I had the chance to watch the Great North American Solar Eclipse with Ben up in the Adirondacks. For just over three minutes, we watched as three celestial bodies, each with their own path and orbit, came together in a line. Magical doesn’t begin to describe the moment. And not just because of the rarity of the occasion, but because of what happens when the Earth, our moon and the sun are in alignment. It’s called syzygy. It's such a powerful phenomenon that it alters the physical environment around us. The temperature drops. The winds change. Animals start their nocturnal routines.

Alignment matters.

The last time this region was in the path of totality for a solar eclipse was 1925, and it won’t happen again until 2144 when my son, aided by advances in human health led by Artificial Intelligence, will turn 132 years old.

Yet here we are, in the year 2024, convening in celebration of Central New York’s “moment” just days after this remarkable occurrence right above us. Coincidence?

Of course not. We are in this moment because of our tenacity, perseverance and creativity. We have earned this moment of rebirth. And the pace and scale of change that is already upon us is nothing like any of us have ever experienced before. It's already testing our ability to keep up, and it's only going to accelerate.

Listen, I know it can be hard to believe. As humans, we are so deeply rooted in what we have known. Stagnation. Population loss. Progress that has sometimes felt glacially slow. But the moment we have now entered is entirely different. In the world of data, it's an outlier. A full standard deviation or two from our past and even recent experience.

Don’t believe me? Consider this.

By the end of this decade, there will be more people living in Central New York than at any other time in history.

Over the next 15 years, projected job growth associated with Micron’s investment alone will drive our population up by nearly 8% and create as many as 50,000 new jobs. Can anyone tell me, when was the last time we had 50,000 more jobs in our community than we do today?

It’s a trick question. Regional employment peaked in 1990 and we’ve never had 50,000 more jobs in our community than we currently have. In all recorded history.

And this project isn’t just reshaping our economic landscape, it’s reshaping our nation’s economic competitiveness, too and vaulting upstate New York into an entirely new tier of criticality to our country’s future. Within the next decade, when Micron has just two of its four fabs up and operating, one in four American-made chips will be produced within 350 miles of this Upstate Semiconductor Corridor. No other area of the country will account for a greater share of domestic production.

This moment is so much bigger than just Central New York. Which is why CenterState CEO has joined partners in Buffalo, Rochester, Ithaca, and Syracuse to compete for and secure a designation as one of 31 nationally significant Tech Hubs around the country. Working in concert with nearly one hundred private sector, academic and community organizations across upstate New York, the SMART I-Corridor has a generational opportunity to build a globally leading semiconductor cluster to advance not just our region’s future economic prosperity, but our national security as well.

If that were all, we’d have our hands full. But it’s not.

Consider our economic development pipeline, our region’s sales funnel of potential opportunity, which has grown more than 20x since 2019 and has more than doubled in just the last twelve months to a staggering $10 billion.

Listen. I get why some people are nervous. This isn’t what we are used to. This isn’t small change, and no one wants to lose the character and quality of life that makes Central New York such an incredible place. And while this level of growth is what we have aspired to and invested in for decades, it comes with real and urgent challenges to which our community will need to rise.

Take housing, for example. The average rent in Onondaga County has risen 57% in the last seven years, making Syracuse one of the places with the fastest rising rents in the country. Imagine that. Our population is growing again, and yet we simply haven’t built enough housing to meet current, let alone future, demand. Already we are hearing from the “No Birds," not in my town. But every city, town and village in Central New York will benefit from our evolution from stagnation to growth, and therefore, we all share the burden of delivering real solutions in the form of more, and more affordable, places to live.

And it’s not just housing that is under pressure but our health care system as well. Aging facilities, lack of necessary IT infrastructure and an acute shortage of nurses and doctors are going to require massive investments to modernize and scale with the growth of our community.

Our airport, now the fourth busiest airport in New York State, will need more than a billion dollars of investment in the coming decade just to accommodate the traffic that we can accurately foresee and plan for today.

Our energy grid faces the simultaneous challenges of the growth of energy intensive industries and an electrification and decarbonization mandate from New York state that, absent rational debate and new carbon-free generation, will slow if not stall the growth we anticipate.

Housing, transportation, energy. These are just a few of the systems that are going to be strained by this moment we are in.

Friends. Can I tell you the scariest and the most exciting part of what comes next? For years, our economic and social progress was held hostage to global and demographic forces that we could only hope to mitigate. But today, as we stand here three days after the Great North American Eclipse, in a moment of alignment unlike anything we have ever seen before, those strong headwinds have shifted to a brisk tailwind.

Which means that there is only one thing that can possibly hold us back, and that is us. Our civic cohesion is what has allowed us to fight our way back from economic collapse. And in this moment of unprecedented opportunity, it is that civic cohesion that must not only hold, but strengthen.

For those who know me, you know I love to mountain bike. Preferably down actual mountains. Over roots and rocks. Berms and drops. Occasionally down small cliffs and across streams. And when you’re on the bike, one thing becomes crystal clear. Your vision has to match your pace. The faster you go, the farther down the trail you need to look.

That’s our challenge. We’re moving faster now. And we need to adjust our vision to a new horizon.

Close your eyes for a moment and think about it. Imagine the community we could build if we are not bound by the same physics to which we’ve become accustomed.

It’s a Central New York with amenity-rich lifestyle communities like those proposed at the former Shoppingtown and Great Northern Malls. One with more concentrated, walkable, vibrant communities in places like Fulton, Oswego, Auburn, Cortland and more. Filled with more young people and more families. A home to more seniors who stayed here because we reshaped our built environment to accommodate their wants and needs.

It’s a place where we build housing at the pace of our population growth. Reform zoning in our towns and villages to increase density. Develop new programs to re-imagine the housing-stock in the city and our inner ring suburbs. Our neighborhoods are full of new life and our residents can afford to own a piece of, and build equity in, their own community.

I see not just one new hospital, but several world-class health-care facilities to serve the needs of a growing population. New schools, too. A second STEAM school because the first one is full and turning out talent that is ready to take our collective place at the helm of this amazing region.

In the summer, the beach on Onondaga Lake is the social and recreational center of our community. We can look across the lake and see an Amphitheater, which was doubled in size to accommodate bigger performances and larger crowds. This is a waterfront that defines our community the same way that waterfronts define the most attractive and enjoyable cities around the world.

That waterfront finally connects to a redefined downtown that is no longer constrained by an absurd highway. A growing skyline stretches from the lakefront to the Hill with new parks and paths that weave together an increasingly walkable and bikeable city.

We have a new, state-of-the-art convention center that showcases our region’s renaissance. New hotels. Exquisite dining, including a Michelin star or three, because food is the ultimate showcase of our city’s up and coming status.

There is an abundance of arts, culture and professional sporting options too.

I loved logic problems in math as a kid, so try this one out. Columbus got Intel. Syracuse got Micron. Therefore, if they have the Columbus Crew, we have what? The Syracuse Surge? And not just an MLS club, but the youth teams and training facilities that young athletes need to achieve their very best.

Now, I sense the skeptics among us – old habits, eh. And maybe some of these things might seem a little ambitious. But there is plenty of room for us to dream and manifest more pedestrian things as well, like an outdoor movie screen or an REI or Patagonia to compliment downtown’s growing local retail landscape.

An IKEA at Destiny USA? Done.

Getting between all these amazing amenities is easy because our reliable and attractive rapid transit system has improved mobility between our downtown, the Hill, the lakefront, our airport, our suburbs and all the lifestyle communities we’ve created.

And if you want to talk about connectivity, Syracuse is a popular stop along the most important high-speed rail corridor in the country that connects the two fastest growing regions of our country from New York City to Chicago.

On the off chance that you want to leave Syracuse, there plenty of options: coast-to-coast non-stop flights, or direct international flights to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and maybe, just maybe, to Europe and Asia. And it’s not just passenger flights that are supported by our airport, but it’s also home to the most robust regional Advanced Air Mobility hub in the US.

The Central New York I see is livable and highly connected. And we did it while staying true to our core values of environmental responsibility and sustainability. We leveraged the investment in the waterpipe from Lake Ontario that was needed for Micron and extended it just a little further south, bringing lake-source cooling to our city, reducing our carbon-footprint and making Central New York one of the most climate-resilient regions in the world.

And speaking of values, the innovation hub once known as The Tech Garden has achieved its own acclaim.  A 2024 study conducted by the World Economic Forum that found women make up less than 25% of the global workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, and comprised a mere 5% of the certified drone pilots in the United States. So tomorrow’s Central New York broke through that ceiling, achieving more than 50% for both. And we’ve been recognized for Black and brown excellence in tech, leading the nation in BIPOC founders of billion-dollar startups.

I see this future for Central New York as a place where businesses thrive, and all people prosper. Where children don’t grow up in poverty. Where we are recognized as one of America's fastest growing, most equitable and most livable cities. And where our community pride finally matches our achievements.  

The truth is I’m not a psychic. I can’t actually see the future. So before anyone asks where the soccer stadium is being built, let me be really clear: these last few images are nothing more than AI-generated renderings of a future-state based off a handful of keywords in a search engine.

But that’s the point. The horizon is approaching faster than ever before. So my advice to each and every one of us in this room is poetically simple: eyes up. The era where it felt like a risk to poke our heads up and dream is now behind us. The future is ours to imagine. We get to determine what keywords shape the years to come. And future generations of Central New Yorkers will more than likely judge our leadership in this moment based on whether or not we dreamt big enough.  

And while I can’t see the future, I do genuinely believe at the very core of my being that we have superpowers. That nothing I said today is impossible. But more importantly that, working together, we can manifest any future we choose for ourselves. And that when we align our energy and ideas and our resources, we are limitless in our potential.


Download the CenterState CEO 2023-2024 Annual Report.

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