Operation Auburn, New York Laura Coburn Design

A group of community leaders are looking to turn some morning conversations over coffee into inspiration for the community’s future. About 75 of those leaders from the public and private sectors met the third Wednesday in January for the first in a series of monthly discussions on local issues like health care, the economy, arts and agriculture.

Dubbed the Wednesday Morning Roundtable, the forums were organized by the group that participated in 2007’s A Call to Action: A Blueprint for Our Region’s Future as a way to foster discussion and eventually inspire ideas to improve the local economy and quality of life.

“All great ideas start with a conversation,” Meg O’Connell, an organizer of the roundtable and director of the local Allyn Foundation, told attendees. “Our real hope is that we have some great conversations over the next few months,” O’Connell said.

Those conversations will focus on:

Jobs, economic development and the recent formation of Cayuga Economic Development Agency on Feb. 16.
The plans for, and potential impact of, an annual musical theater festival on March 16.
The opportunity for a biogas pipeline fueled by Cayuga County’s dairy industry on April 20.
The future of health care and local partnerships on May 18.
After the final meeting, members will be asked to assess whether they want to continue with roundtable discussions on new topics.

“When you look for people to solve problems, it really needs to bubble up from the entire community,” O’Connell said. “If the community doesn’t get behind it, it’s just going to fall flat.”

The Wednesday Morning Roundtable was inspired by a similar monthly forum that’s taken place in Syracuse since 1965. The Cayuga County roundtable includes breakfast and coffee at 7:30 a.m., with the presentations beginning at 8 a.m. Each meeting will include a time for questions from attendees.

The meetings are open to members who will commit to attending the entire program. The organizing committee sent out approximately 150 invitations to potential members, yet even with the membership requirements, organizers are releasing video recordings of each meeting for the public to view. Guy Cosentino, director of the local Stardust Foundation of Central New York and a member of the organizing committee, said they want these focused discussions to reach beyond the roundtable members.

“The thought has always been to raise the level of public discussion,” Cosentino said before adding that there is already a waiting list for the series. “People are hungry for that information.”

The first meeting served as an introduction to the series, with presenters giving a taste of the issues they plan to cover at future roundtable discussions. It also included a presentation on the Auburn community’s designation on Forbes.com as the 18th best small city to raise a family. Auburn was the highest ranked city in the Northeast.

The feature analyzed 126 metropolitan and micropolitan areas with populations less than 100,000 people. The Auburn area also includes municipalities outside of the city limits. The federal government gave Auburn its own designation separate from the Syracuse metropolitan area in 2004, making the local community eligible for the Forbes list.

The Forbes discussion was chosen to set a “positive” tone for the entire series, O’Connell said. “It’s easy to be negative and critical,” O’Connell said. “But this is not going to be the place to come and complain.”

—Staff writer Christopher Caskey, The Citizen