A Whole Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

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Now that we’ve marked the boundaries of Greater Western New York, the fun really begins. First, we can delineate the counties included. Greater Western New York contains 17 counties. These represent all the counties west of or touching the correct Pre-Emption Line. Those counties are:

● Allegany             ● Chautauqua
● Cattaraugus      ● Chemung
● Erie                    ● Genesee
● Livingston          ● Monroe
● Niagara              ● Ontario
● Orleans              ● Seneca
● Schuyler            ● Steuben            ● Wayne               ● Wyoming            ● Yates

We should note that Pre-Emption Line marks the western border of both Seneca County (maybe, depending on who owns Seneca Lake) and Chemung County. The Line slices through the counties of Wayne, Yates and Schuyler. As it stands, the eastern borders of Wayne, Seneca, Schuyler and Chemung form a fairly straight line from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania line. OK, maybe it’s not quite straight enough to convince an officer you’re not unduly influenced, but it’s close enough.

What exactly does this constellation of the 17 western-most counties of New York State tell us? I discovered this particular hidden gem while preparing for a January 2004 presentation for the Buffalo/Niagara Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). On the heels of our first ever and highly successful Western New York Investors Conference, I was invited to take five minutes to provide an economic forecast for Western New York. Now, mind you, I once almost got hired to be the weekend weather forecaster for Channel 13 in Rochester. I was comfortable giving weather forecasts. There’s at least a little bit of science behind that. The economy? That’s a totally different matter. By that time I’d been in the investment business long enough to realize most economic forecasts were useless and, well, philosophically, I just couldn’t condone wasting people’s time by doing anything useless.

So, as I often do in my presentations, I took a different track. (For example, upon being inducted in the Gates-Chili High School Hall of Fame, while all the other inductees spoke of their business experience and stick-to-it-ativeness – you know, the usual Chamber of Commerce fodder – my speech to the senior class told the true story of how math saved my life.) As I considered the options, I focused on the most important driver to success in our region (or, for that matter, any other region).

When it comes to gauging economic accomplishment, we often point to things like housing starts, unemployment and taxes, just to name a few. But the real measuring rod for success isn’t financial, it’s people, as in “population.” Initially, my thought was to focus on invigorating public policy that concentrates almost exclusively on attracting more citizens to our region. I thought that would be the ultimate secret to our success. But then I looked at the actual numbers.

Boy was I surprised.

The secret of our future success isn’t so much bringing more people in – although that would be the end result – but to take a hard look at how we define our footprint. The process of consulting the U.S. Census numbers led me to discover Greater Western New York’s greatest hidden gem – one that, if properly used, can not only sustain us in the immediate term but provide a launching point for even greater future success.

According to the 2010 census, the 17 counties in our region contain 2,822, 996 people.1

Wow. That’s not something we can or should dismiss. Why?

Let’s take a moment to analyze how the U.S. Census organizes its data. According to OMB Bulletin No. 10-02, “Metropolitan Statistical Areas have at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties. Micropolitan Statistical Areas – a new set of statistical areas – have at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties… If specified criteria are met, adjacent Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas, in various combinations, may become the components of a new set of complementary areas called Combined Statistical Areas.”2

In our case, the U.S. Census has been kind enough to divide Greater Western New York into two different Metropolitan Statistical Areas – one with Buffalo as its core and the other with Rochester as its core. Furthermore, both of these have been combined with adjacent Micropolitan Statistical Areas to creae two separate Combined Statistical Areas. The Buffalo-based Metro area includes Erie and Niagara Counties with a population of 1,135,509 and its Combined Statistical Area adds Cattaraugus County for a total population of 1,215,826. The Rochester-based Metro area includes Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans and Wayne Counties with a total population of 1,054,323 and its Combined Statistical Area adds Genesee and Seneca Counties for a total population of 1,149,653.

Believe me, it’s a lot easier to digest these numbers in my presentations. I use lots of pictures. And no math.

Here’s another way of looking at it. What if we redefined the U.S. Census definitions and called the entire 17 county Greater Western New York Region a Combined Statistical Area? It would then compare to North Carolina’s fabled Research Triangle (which consists of 23 counties and a similarly sized population).

But wait! There’s more!

What if we just called the entire region a Metropolitan Statistical Area? At just under three million inhabitants, that would place us in the top twenty of all Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the country. Currently (again as of the 2010 Census), the Buffalo Metro Area sits are number 47 with the Rochester Metro Area not far behind at 51. A combined Greater Western New York Metro Area would rise to #18, just ahead of the 16 county St. Louis Metro Area as well as the tri-city area of Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and a tad behind San Diego.

The news gets even more amazing. Greater Western New York has a greater population than 17 other states and would rank #34 among states in terms of the number of people living within its boundaries.3 In fact, its population exceeds the combined populations of the four least populous states – Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.4

Greater Western New York a separate state? It’s not that far-fetched as you might think. After all, Vermonters got their own piece of sovereignty from New York territory during the Revolutionary War in 1777.5 Heck, they even operated as their own country until they decided to join the newly independent United States in 1791. Who knows, if the Treaty of Hartford in 1786 had gone differently, rather than creating an Ontario County from all New York State land west of Pre-Emption Line, the negotiators might have instead agreed to create the nation’s first new state. Perhaps we would have had a fourteenth original colony called “Ontario.” (Imagine how that would even further confuse folks wondering if the Niagara Falls you’re talking about is the one in Ontario, Canada or the one in Ontario, United States!)

The good news is we don’t have to become a separate state to take advantage of the huge critical mass our combined population affords us. Truth be told, smart marketers are already utilizing this hidden gem. Regional marketers, most notably the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres/Rochester Americans, have seen how their apparently “small market” teams really aren’t small market at all.

By the way, the term “small market” refers to our media markets. As long as we continue to divide Greater Western New York into a “Buffalo” and a “Rochester” media market, we’ll continue to be viewed as a small market. Imagine the potential gold mine if some media entrepreneur understands the power of population (I believe Adelphia Cable, before its demise, was headed in this direction).

When I concluded my presentation to the Buffalo/Niagara chapter of the PRSA, I told them I’d given them less of a forecast than a call to arms. You see, that’s the way I use forecasts. While most people, somewhat understandably, view forecasting as watching things happen, I see it as a way to make things happen.

Before we leave this chapter, some of you might be interested to know national marketers have long recognized the usefulness of our population. Rochester has always been among the top locations chosen by test marketers. In 2004, a study listed the city as the #2 test market in the nation.6 A combination of factors make this area attractive for test marketers, including a demographic make-up that has historically approximated the U.S. population. Yet, we cannot isolate this “national trend-setting” persona to Rochester alone. You might get a lump in your throat to learn our next hidden gem, one with equal national ramifications, hails from the Buffalo area.

If you like this story, you’ll love Chris Carosa’s book 50 Hidden Gems of Greater Western New York. Be sure to check out the book trailer on 50HiddenGems.com and sign up for the GreaterWesternNewYork.com newsletter so you can be the first on your street to find out about the next exciting way to help promote your favorite region in America (and maybe even discuss making it our nation’s 51st state)!

1 Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties of New York: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011 (CO-EST2011-01-36), Release Date: April 2012, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36000lk.html
2 Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Washington, D.C., December 1, 2009 http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/bulletins/b10-02.pdf
3 Guide to State and Local Geography – Selected Data from the 2010 Census, U.S. Census Bureau Geography Division, Created: September 6, 2011, Last Revised: October 20, 2011, http://www.census.gov/geo/www/guidestloc/select_data.html
4 Ibid.
5 Vermont’s Declaration of Independence , January 15, 1777, Source: Second Vermont Republic, http://vermontrepublic.org/vermonts-declaration-of-independence-1777
6 “Syracuse, NY: A Great Test Market,” The Research Bunker, February 3, 2011, http://rmsbunkerblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/syracuse-ny-a-great-test-market-market-research/


  1. I’m ready to secede, NOW.

    NYS is going down hill. I favour having CONTROL over our demise, rather than leave it to NYC to decide our fate.

    Thomas J./ Baglin

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