By Katelyn Ruszkowski
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
In an effort to keep tourism dollars in the U.S., the Niagara Global Tourism Institute is working to develop the whole community in Niagara Falls to make it a more tourist-friendly area.
"You've got the touristy area of Niagara Falls and then you've got, not too far away, something that's less touristy. That won't change unless this initiative overall changes it," said Lisa Williams, a NGTI committee member. "If people drive through these areas, that's their first impression."
NGTI was formed in September of 2014 after receiving funds, in part, from the USA Niagara Development Corp. and the New York Power Authority to gather research on what is needed in Niagara Falls to encourage tourism and drive the economy. NGTI aims to improve local areas by encouraging residents to take advantage of job opportunities to better their lives and communities.
A development plan for Niagara Falls is being structured by Niagara University and Niagara County Community College professors in collaboration with representatives of Delaware North, government agencies, the Niagara Falls Airport, Frank Strangio (owner of Wingate by Wyndham Niagara Falls, Quality Inn Niagara Falls and Antonio's Banquet & Conference Center), and Dan Hamister of the Hamister Group. These professors and business owners share their knowledge of the tourism and human resource industries to properly plan for the development of the city.
Niagara Falls will be getting an additional 600 hotel rooms in the next 18 months.
"This should spur all kinds of industry," Williams said.
With more tourists, there will be a greater need for jobs in the transportation industry, at hotels and restaurants.
"Our committee charge is to facilitate development and the implementation of workforce training initiatives for all facets of the tourism industry," Williams said.
For businesses expanding in Niagara Falls, the committee is devising training methods the companies can share in order to save money. This should draw more businesses to the city, providing more jobs.
NGTI gathers information on who's traveling to Niagara Falls and what their needs are.
"The role of the organization is to be a think tank about tourism," Strangio said.
NGTI is bringing in the Disney Institute to train people in Niagara Falls so they are prepared to lead a successful tourism industry. A training seminar will take place March 2, 2016, at the Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls.
"Disney is bringing their best and brightest to share ideas with us," Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a recent press conference.
"We are incredibly proud to partner with the Disney Institute to bring this training to Niagara Falls and Western New York," said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. "It is our vision to work with local businesses and community leaders to provide educational and training opportunities to continue to develop the workforce in our community. This highly acclaimed training seminar will provide a tremendous opportunity for individuals and companies to learn from one of the finest training organizations in the world."
Having the Disney Institute train people in Niagara Falls should advance the quality of service workers will be able to deliver to tourists. The Disney Institute creates custom solutions for businesses and trains leaders to embrace change and incorporate desired skills into their culture.
•Patrick J. Whalen, former chief operating officer of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc., was recently named interim director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute.
A comprehensive search to fill the position on a permanent basis will begin in the spring.
The NGTI, an NU-led initiative, seeks to leverage research and development to transform the regional travel and tourism industry.
"Mr. Whalen brings exceptional experience and contacts in the area of economic development, with specific expertise in business incubation, supply chain management and international trade. We are very pleased that he'll be leading the next phase of our efforts to optimize the unique assets that exist in the Western New York region," Maher said.
A 15-member advisory board oversees the institute, and gathers input from four subcommittees comprised of industry constituents that focus on four core components: research, technology, workforce development and business incubation. Whalen has been serving on the NGTI's business incubation subcommittee.
Whalen, prior to his seven-year tenure with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, served as president/owner of PJW Transition Services, division manager at UPS Supply Chain Solutions and founder/owner/president of Fulfillment Systems International, one of the more than 20 entrepreneurial ventures he has founded, co-founded or invested in. Throughout his career, Whalen has served in a professional leadership capacity for several organizations, including the Buffalo Niagara World Trade Center, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership's Logistics Council and the New York State Business Incubation Association.
Whalen is a graduate of the University at Buffalo's School of Management Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.