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Orsi sets partnerships with minority community as priority in new Oishei position

Christina Orsi, wearing a black blouse, in front of a gray background
John R. Oishei Foundation
Christina Orsi joins the John R. Oishei Foundation in January.

Christina Orsi has been a familiar figure in the local corridors of power for years, as she worked her way up in area economic development. Now, in the top group in the region, Orsi has been tapped to be president of the John R. Oishei Foundation.

Currently, she serves as associate vice president of economic development at the University at Buffalo. She's in charge of using the university's vast resources to create companies and jobs in this region, proving that intellectual power can mean economic development.

In her new job, she's planning to break down some of the racial barriers in the region and bring everyone to those meetings where entrepreneurial opportunities and wealth generation are created.

She said a priority is getting the local minority community into the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"It really has to start with actually building relationships and networks," Orsi said. "The reality in Western New York is we have been racially not integrated, right? And so, to me, a big part of that is how do you reach out and start to form this completely new relationships in minority communities and build trust with them."

Orsi said the foundation has to engage differently with the minority community.

"We have to do different in how we engage with and partner with minority communities because they have just as good of ideas. They're not lacking for innovation or ideas," she said. "They might not have access. They might not have as many models of entrepreneurs who have come from their community, who have succeeded."

Orsi said UB is a big player now and will remain one.

"A generator of innovation and new startups, but we're also a resource to support entrepreneurs from around Western New York," she said. "But, increasingly, what we focused on is we are the largest university in the region, 30,000 students, very significant research that happens at the University of Buffalo. We are a great source of innovative ideas."

That's why four new life sciences companies have been started this month, using ideas and science produced by the university's staff. Orsi said there are 100 great ideas coming out every year.

Orsi said she expects to spend little time in the office she moves into late next month, but be out in the community.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.