Keynote speaker John P. Gaus issued a challenge Wednesday to this years cadre of 20 bright, enterprising leaders under age 40, urging them to have the courage to take risks to become successful entrepreneurs.
My hope is that this group of people generates 100 times the success over whoever is the most successful person in the community right now. Do work to make things happen here, Mr. Gaus, the owner of Potsdam-based Golden Technology Management, said at the NNY Business magazines 20 Under 40 luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn.
About 240 people attended the third annual awards luncheon hosted by NNY Business, a magazine owned by Johnson Newspaper Corp. The Times was among nine sponsors of the event, which recognized 20 young, emerging leaders in the north country for 2013. The 20 were selected from 48 nominations received from the public and reviewed by a committee of Times and NNY Business personnel.
Mr. Gaus, a 1989 computer engineering graduate of Clarkson University, started his speech by asking members of the audience to raise their hands if they were founders or owners of a private business. A good portion of hands in the room shot up.
To grow the economy, the Watertown resident said, its going to take more bold, young entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks.
Mr. Gaus left the north country in the 1990s to serve in the Army, a period during which he completed graduate school in Germany, then went on to become a successful entrepreneur. He launched an energy brokerage firm in Boston called Enermetrix in 1998, and the company raised $65 million in capital and had more than 200 employees when it was sold in 2002. Mr. Gaus then returned to the region to launch Golden Technology Management, which manages technology ventures and employs graduates of the Clarkson University School of Business.
An anecdote in Thomas L. Friedmans book The Lexus and the Olive Tree was highlighted by Mr. Gaus during his speech to illustrate the importance of taking a community-wide approach to economic growth.
During an interview for the book, he said, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin told a joke to Mr. Friedman about a pig farmer who finds a genie lamp buried in the mud. When the genie asks him for a wish, the farmer explains that his neighbor has 200 pigs while he has only 50.
Do you want 150 more pigs? the genie asks.
The farmer replies, No, I want to kill the 150 my neighbor owns.
Part of our challenge for economic development in upstate New York is our mentality, Mr. Gaus said, driving home the storys moral. Were sometimes focused too much on competing than helping each other. There are big opportunities for entrepreneurs here to pursue. But the challenges here arent as great as they are in Poland, the Czech Republic or Bulgaria, where Ive seen entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks.
The regions approach to economic development should focus on opportunities that already exist within the region, Mr. Gaus contended.
We need to create ideas that are fundable, creating products and services that meet the criteria for investors that are flush with capital, he said. We cant just be outside sharecroppers who bring in projects with owners located outside the community.
He continued, Its important that our assets reside in our community, and we have to have some people do well and create wealth. I think theres nothing better in our economy than to have 20 young millionaires who drive hot rods and create opportunities here.
The oldest nominee to garner an award at Wednesdays ceremony was Matthew J. Cervini, who was 39 when he was nominated and turned 40 on Saturday. He is a civil engineer and senior construction manager at Lend Lease, a Watertown property management firm that has led the development of Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes.
This was a total surprise, said Mr. Cervini, a volunteer and coach in the Watertown Minor Hockey League. Im really enjoying this, and I dont feel like Im 40 just yet.
The youngest nominee was 25-year-old Kristen M. Reed, vocational/rehabilitation counselor at Watertowns Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions.
There are so many excellent people here, and to be the youngest in this excellent group feels great, said Ms. Reed, who graduated from SUNY Potsdam in 2010 with a bachelors degree in communications. We have an amazing staff at Credo, so to be nominated is really a tribute.
John B. Johnson, CEO and co-publisher of the Watertown Daily Times, said the ceremony for young professionals has evolved into a major event during its short lifetime.
It really shows how the community is actively engaged in creating opportunities for young professionals and giving them reasons to invest their time, energy and money into the community, he said.
Kenneth J. Eysaman, NNY magazines editor, said the ceremony has become something young professionals look forward to every year. About 160 people attended the first event in December 2011 at the Black River Valley Club.
Were very proud to partner with so many respected businesses and deliver a first-rate event, Mr. Eysaman said. Its humbling to see this kind of energy and enthusiasm for what we started only three years ago.
Also during Wednesdays event, NNY Business honored the memory of Renee J. Beyer, a Lewis County senior planner who died in an auto accident in April. Those who knew her said she was a natural young leader who led without knowing that she was leading.
The recognition of Mrs. Beyer was the magazines response to nearly a dozen nominations for her to receive posthumous honors.
In addition to the Times, event sponsors were the Hilton Garden Inn, the Northern New York Community Foundation, Watertown Savings Bank, Timeless Frames, Greater Watertown Jaycees, Thousand Islands Young Leaders Organization, Black River Valley Club and the YMCA.