Two women working in a lab.

The Millennial Effect

New faces are bringing a breath of fresh air to Upstate NY

A transformation is occurring in New York State. With more than 4 million millennials in the state’s workforce*, new faces and perspectives are bringing a breath of fresh air to places like Buffalo, Plattsburgh, Syracuse and a variety of other cities and towns along the way, spearheading innovation and revitalizing local communities.

Here, four New York-based millennials talk about how they’re contributing to their respective emerging industries, what makes their locales special, and how a new American Dream is building throughout the Empire State.

Tom Hausler
Talent Manager, Viaduct
Buffalo, NY

As a talent manager at Viaduct — a recruitment agency that specializes in consulting, talent acquisition and management for the startup community in Buffalo — it’s basically a prerequisite for 29-year-old Tom Hausler to sing the praises of his hometown.

However, along with pointing to the steady uptick in positions he’s staffed for industries including healthcare, IT and a variety of emerging tech, Hausler cites a trend that can’t be measured, yet is vital: word of mouth.|

“There’s a new trend I’ve noticed, where people have moved away and are now looking to come back, or people that have never been to Buffalo are looking to come here because they’re hearing about the renaissance going on,” says Hausler. “The renaissance of Buffalo is continuing. Historically, Buffalo’s been known as a manufacturing, blue-collar town, but seeing some of these new, innovative startup companies come to the area, I think it’s got a lot of millennials interested in that type of environment. It’s got them thinking outside the box a little bit.”

Life in Western New York has always suited Hausler. Originally from neighboring Williamsville, N.Y., he attended SUNY Fredonia, where he earned a B.S. in Exercise Science in 2009. Hausler saw many of his friends and fellow graduates head off to larger cities both in and out of state, but his heart led him right back to Buffalo.

After working his way up the ranks at his first job with the Superior Group — Buffalo’s largest recruitment agency — Hausler transitioned to his current role with the company’s newly-created subsidiary, Viaduct, to help staff emerging tech companies and businesses relocating to Buffalo. During his four years as a recruiter, Hausler has gained unique insights into the local job market, noting that, in addition to staffing larger companies within the area, Buffalo’s startup community is quickly making a name for itself with competitions like 43North (a $5 million competition designed to encourage entrepreneurs with high growth potential to compete for enterprise funding in Western New York).

Although priority number one continues to be finding the best and brightest talent to help continue building Buffalo’s growing workforce, Hausler admits that he does have a few, albeit personal, career benchmarks he hopes to achieve in the coming years — notably, involving recruiting those college friends who left for jobs in bigger cities.

“I’ve kind of made it part of my mission to try and bring them back to Buffalo; bring them back home,” says Hausler. “I know that, deep down, they’d really like to convince their wives or girlfriends, so I’m always trying to do my part to bring them back, because I know the things that Buffalo can offer that maybe the cities they’re living in can’t: the affordability factor, the new jobs and different developments that are here.”

Katie Ehlers
Speech Language Consultant, Talkitt
Buffalo, NY

Unlike Hausler’s college friends, Katie Ehlers, 24, needs no convincing when it comes to staying and working in Buffalo.

Originally from Riverhead, located on the eastern end of Long Island, N.Y., Ehlers landed in Buffalo — and at her current role as a Speech Language Consultant at Voiceitt, the creators of Talkitt — a speech recognition app for people with motor, speech or language disorders that helps create paths for conversation using their own voice.

Ehlers found her calling in speech-language pathology through detective work familiar to her millennial peers – by Googling everything she knew about herself and taking a series of online personality quizzes and career-related tests. After graduating in 2015 with a B.S. in Communicative Disorders and Sciences from the University at Buffalo, a school she chose for its affordability and highly ranked speech-language pathology program, Ehlers was hired in her current role as a Speech Language Consultant, where she works directly with Talkitt users by building out the platform’s words and vocabulary banks.

“My favorite part of my job is when I get to work one-on-one with someone who would use Talkitt day-to-day, and watching them light up when they can finally speak freely using their own voice using this really cool, innovative technology that translates whatever it is they’re saying for them.”

Ehlers has since immersed herself in the startup community in Buffalo, particularly among her cohorts at the incubator space at 43North (where Talkitt’s parent company, Voiceitt, is located). Pointing to the community’s focus on helping local businesses establish a healthy work-life balance for employees, she details events like mixers, outdoor activities and exclusive access to local museums and local attractions as ways to not only socialize outside of the office, but also give her and her coworkers the opportunity to learn more about their hometown.

“That’s really the fun thing about working at 43North, and I think Buffalo in general: you work all day, and then at the end of the day, you have something to look forward to,” she explains. “It’s a nice reward, and it makes you feel like you’re a part of something more than just the company you work for.”

“A lot of people say I moved here at the perfect time because the past five years have been a rebirth of Buffalo, so everything has been very community and city-based. There’s always something to do every day of the week, whether it’s supporting a local business or volunteering at a farmers market — there’s just always something going on. You’re a part of the Buffalo community.”

Samantha (Rinaldo) McDonough
Lead Process Engineer, INFICON
Syracuse, NY

When asked if she knew what she wanted to study in college, Samantha McDonough, 32, had no hesitation.

“I had a clear vision: I wanted to go to school to pursue a career in physics,” recalls McDonough. “I really loved my high school physics class and learning how everything worked — the explanations of how things moved and stopped, the reasons why things either float or sink — I knew that was really what I wanted to pursue.”

And it’s with similar enthusiasm that she talks about where her career took her after receiving a B.S. in Physics from SUNY Brockport: no, not elsewhere in the state or even the country, but to Syracuse a convenient 25-mile drive from where she grew up in Canastota, N.Y.

“There’s so much going on here: if it’s summer, you go hiking up north, or my girlfriends and I can go do a wine tour down in Ithaca, or if we’re looking for a girls trip we can go to New York City for the weekend and catch a play,” she lists when asked about the benefits of life in Syracuse. “I’m also very much an outdoors person, and enjoy the seasons — I don’t really feel like you get that variety in a lot of other cities.”

As a burgeoning hub for next gen technology and development, thanks to both local and state initiatives, Central New York has quietly become a location for offerings ranging from healthcare applications to app and web-based educational platforms. McDonough plays a part in this emerging tech-focused community as a Lead Process Engineer at INFICON, a Syracuse-based provider of instruments for gas analysis, measurement and control that enhance productivity and quality in sophisticated industrial vacuums.

On a day-to-day basis, she oversees one-third of all product manufacturing and processing, ensuring deadlines are met and making sure processes are in check. McDonough also collaborates with INFICON clients, designing and building new semiconductor-based technologies.

“Every day is completely different, which is what makes this job so exciting — if a problem arises, we need to fix it, and determine how that process got off track to begin with,” says McDonough, who is quick to credit her SUNY education for instilling a lasting work ethic. “The physics curriculum that I took wasn’t easy, so I learned that if I wanted it to become easy, and if I wanted to do well and excel, then I was going to have to put in the time and effort. That’s reiterated in my career now.”

In addition to the challenging work, McDonough also appreciates working at a company that understands the need for a healthy work-life balance — something she sees taking a foothold across Syracuse-based businesses. “A work-life balance is something that INFICON really champions, so I’m very fortunate to be able to have that, especially being a working mom with two small children at home. If you’re looking for that balance, then Syracuse is definitely the area you want to be.”

Neil Fernandez
Junior Developer, Insum Solutions
Plattsburgh, NY

As a high school pitcher with hopes to continue playing in college, Neil Fernandez, 22, learned that, in order to be successful, he had to adapt to a variety of situations, all while relying on a core skill set to get the job done.
As a student at SUNY Plattsburgh, he soon discovered that the same rules applied.

“I wanted to go to college and play baseball, but I got injured and had some health issues, so from there I focused on what I wanted my career to be,” recalls Fernandez. “I used to help out family members and friends fixing their computers — whenever my friends had an issue they came to me — so I thought about studying either IT or Computer Science.

“Initially, I picked IT because the thought of programming didn’t seem too appealing. But then I took my first intro to programming course as part of the IT major and realized I really enjoyed programming, so I switched to Computer Science.”

After graduating in 2016 with a B.S. in Computer Science, Fernandez landed an internship with Insum Solutions, a Montreal-based IT services provider, looking to establish an office in Plattsburgh that would be primarily staffed with current and former students from nearby universities. The opportunity to gain hands-on experience working on web development eventually led to a full-time role for Fernandez.

“On a day-to-day basis, we create tools and applications for large businesses that heavily rely on databases,” Fernandez explains about his role at Insum Solutions. “We specialize in a tool called Oracle APEX, which helps us rapidly build applications so we’re not starting from scratch. We work with some pretty large clients: I recently had the opportunity to work with Carnival Cruise Lines, creating reporting tools for all of their ships, so that was very exciting, being able to develop an application that would be put into production at a large scale.”

As far as activities available for a growing community of young professionals in Plattsburgh, Fernandez says there’s plenty to do in the North Country region.

“If you’re an outdoors person, Plattsburgh is a great place,” says Fernandez. “There’s 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks, so I have a lot of friends here that go hiking. They have the Bass Pro Tournaments at Lake Champlain, so fishing and kayaking are popular. There’s also a lot of local, good food, restaurants, bars, and there’s four or five breweries in Plattsburgh too that are popular.

“The community is growing — over the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of college students staying, I think that’s the direction that Plattsburgh is going in,” relates Fernandez. “I know plenty of people that think there’s not much going on in Plattsburgh, but once they come visit, usually their views change — they realize that there’s beautiful scenery around, and there’s definitely plenty to do.” 

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