ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A new Monroe County program will help local businesses recruit and retain area college graduates, according to Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.

Bello joined local economic leaders for a press conference Tuesday morning to announce details on the new Rochester Emerging Talent and Innovations Network (RETAIN) program, a “new initiative to boost Monroe County’s workforce.”

“One thing that I’ve been continuously hearing is, ‘we need more employees,'” Bello said. “It doesn’t matter if it is a low or high talent market; businesses need employees. We are trying to bridge employees to employers in Monroe County.”

The announcement took place at Innovation Square, formerly known as Xerox Tower in downtown Rochester. The building was bought by Gallina Development in 2020 and has since been renovated for businesses and housing for college students.

“When we purchased this property, we had an idea,” said Evan Gallina, Gallina Development Project Manager. “What does Rochester need? You see businesses come here, and we need talent down here. We have so many college graduates scattered around the region, but we need to attract them downtown. So we are going to bring the college students here. In August we will have 120 [students] moving in, and by the end of the year we will have more than 400 living here in downtown.”

“This place is a hub of entrepreneurship and economic growth and if we want to keep growing, we need to invest in our workforce,” Bello said. “We have some of the best universities in the country right here in Monroe County, but far too many college graduates — about 19,000 every year, leave our community in search of better opportunities elsewhere. How do we bridge that gap?”

The proposed solution: RETAIN. The new county initiative is described as a retention and recruitment tool for local businesses which will allow a one-time $2,000 payment to recent graduates if they live and work in Monroe County for at least one year after graduation.

According to the county executive, there is currently enough allocated funding to allow 50 recent graduates to participate. Qualifying businesses will have to hire someone with at least a four-year degree directly related to advanced manufacturing, optics, photonics, or software information technology.

“We have thousands of jobs here and they are good jobs,” Bello said. “This is how we open their eyes to Monroe County and the opportunities here. Not only will these younger people have plenty of access to good jobs today and tomorrow, but they will see, live, and play in this community for a lifetime.”

“We are at war for talent,” said Greater ROC Enterprise President and CEO Matt Hurlbutt. “We need to retain and bring more employees to the area to support the growth that we are seeing.”

RETAIN is available to businesses located within Monroe County with 100 or fewer full-time equivalents that have 90% of employees working within the county and businesses may use RETAIN funds as either a signing bonus or retention initiative. Click here for a full list of eligibility criteria.

Officials say applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and the program will prioritize minority and women-owned businesses, as well as businesses in “highly distressed zip codes):

  • Businesses may claim up to five RETAIN Monroe grants ($10,000) for new employees per year
  • Minority and women-owned businesses, as well as veteran-owned businesses with proper certification, will not be subject to the $10,000 cap.

RETAIN Monroe participants must have:

  • Graduated within three years from a college or university located in Monroe County and hold a four-year degree or a Master’s Degree
  • Obtained full-time employment at a business headquartered within Monroe County with 100 or fewer employees for one full year after the date of hire
  • Earned a degree that is directly linked to their employment
  • Employment in the job fields of Advanced Manufacturing, Life Sciences, Optics, Photonics and Imaging (OPI) or Software/IT
  • A starting annual salary no higher than $60,000

According to county officials, the funding is supplied by the Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation (MCIDC).

Innovation Square is also home to Great Lakes Gaming, a new state-of-the-art esports gaming facility in downtown Rochester that opened in April.

Full press conference