I was talking to Tony DiBarnaba the other day about the company he founded 20 years ago. Benefit Resource employs 100 in a new, 30,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Henrietta.
Benefit Resource pioneered, and is a leading provider of, company-sponsored tax advantage commuter and health plans using debit cards. In addition to the corporate headquarters, it has offices in New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. DiBarnaba told me that more than 75 percent of his of his business, and most of its growth, is from outside of Rochester.
Knowing Tony was from Connecticut, I inquired, why Rochester? He answered because it gives his firm a significant advantage over national competitors. Additionally, he rattled off three other national firms that have located significant back-office operations here in the last 10 years.
I went on to ask a number of financially oriented questions to determine the advantage he referenced. He indicated that his firm did not request, or receive, any governmental financial support when it decided to locate and build its headquarters here. He finally said, come see my company and you will understand.
A few days later I took him up on his offer. As we toured the headquarters, I observed a diverse workforce interacting with each other and on the telephone with clients in a polite and professional manner.
At the end of the tour he turned to me and said, do you understand why Rochester? I answered, the people.
He told me about his experience in sales and orienting the entire company around what he referred to as the “customer encounter.” Rochestarians really get that, he said. He has found people in our community to be industrious, grounded in strong values, innovative, appreciative and eager to serve. “My job is to ensure employees are treated fairly, and with dignity, so we can compete and win,” he said.
We frequently hear about upstate’s lack of competitiveness due to the high-cost operating environment and the need for government handouts to level the playing field. It is true that the cost structure associated with doing business in upstate needs continued scrutiny. But we shouldn’t undervalue what Benefit Resource and others see as our competitive advantage.
Benefit Resource’s story reminded me of Russell Conwell, a 19th century Baptist minister who gave the same lecture more than 6,000 times around the world to raise the funds to found Temple University.
The lecture, “Acres of Diamonds,” was about a Middle Eastern farmer who sold his land and spent the proceeds in search of diamonds and a vast fortune. In the end, with his money gone and feeling dejected, the farmer cast himself into the sea. One day, the man who purchased his farm discovered a diamond in the stream that ran through the land. Further digging produced one of the largest diamond mines in the world.
We need to be vigilant not to overlook our own “acres of diamonds.”
So let’s get to work.