This article first appeared in The Alt on June 28, 2018.
Photos by Richard Lovrich
Becky Daniels says she grew up with a chip on her shoulder, like many Schenectadians. She’d tell friends that Schenectady was the “Electric City,” home to General Electric and the first television broadcast. When she left the city for Syracuse to pursue her undergrad degree, she continued to play her role as a defender and promoter of the region.
“People were always so surprised to learn where I went to high school. When people spoke poorly about Schenectady I was always the first to speak up.”
Now Daniels has found what she describes as the “dream job I never knew I existed” as head of Discover Schenectady, the county’s recently reconfigured tourism bureau. The agency constituted by the Schenectady County Legislature and funded by the county hotel tax is guided by 17 volunteer board members. Since being conceived of in 2016 Discover Schenectady has implemented a new website, launched a series called SchenectadEats highlighting local restaurants and hosted the annual conference of New York State Tourism Association.
Daniels, now 31, recalls being in high school when Philip Morris came to Proctors. She was impressed that an important person would come to her town. Later she says she feels she witnessed the transformation of Schenectady due to the impact of Proctors on local tourism. (Proctors is a part owner of The Alt.)
Daniels stayed in Syracuse to pursue her graduate degree, regularly returning home to see her friends and family, but there was still that sense that she had to really, properly, leave home. To be “successful” she would have to live and work in New York City or California. But she says, “When the time came to take my next step I felt those roots pulled back here, and I’m glad they did.”
In 2008, Daniels lost her older sister to kidney disease. She moved back to the region in 2012 and began working with organ transplant and donor families at the Center for Donation and Transplant at Albany Medical Center. From there she took on a role at GE’s wind and renewable energy division. She was brought on as director of Discover Schenectady in the spring of 2017.
The main focus of Daniels’ gig is to attract visitors from around the world to Schenectady County, but in order to achieve that goal Daniels has to help distill the ideas of some of the most influential and opinionated people Schenectady County has to offer.
Ray Legere, head of Legere Properties and Legere Group, led a conversation of a number of the group’s board members that the The Alt attended earlier this month. Seated in the stark white boardroom of Discover Schenectady’s office at 242 Broadway, Legere laughed as he was asked about getting the group on the same page.
“We all bring people to Schenectady for a variety of reasons, and they all say that they are amazed at the vibe and that we are all working together. You own a hotel and you own a hotel,” Legere says nodding toward Carney McGuire of Rivers Casino and Joe Popolizio of Water’s Edge, “and were not all sitting here hating each other!”
Mona Golub, Price Chopper executive and producing artistic director for Music Haven, said that she sees Discover Schenectady as “our first opportunity as Schenectadians to dig a little deeper in promoting our assets.”
“We have more assets than we’ve had in a very long time and we all have our day-to-day perspectives so its quite an opportunity to unify as a single group and focus on that to set the course for the county,” said Golub.
As part of getting all the board members on the same page, Daniels retained the services of the Mahoney Performance Institute. “I learned early on in taking this role that it is helpful to bring in an outside group to help with this. My role is to make sure we bring everyone to the table with the same vision, speaking the same language and that everyone feels good because their name is attached to my name.”
Daniels acknowledges that she was initially concerned that, as a young person without a background in tourism, her opinions might not be heard in a room full of long-established influentials. “I was slightly worried about how valued my voice would be, it’s something I thought about and it was a pleasant surprise to feel so heard and trusted so early on.”
Perhaps most critical to Discover Schenectady’s success is Daniels’ drive. She volunteers her time at multiple local organizations and promotes runs for various charities. It’s something she said she picked up while attending Schenectady High School. “We were required to do so many hours of community service and it showed me how impactful just a few hours of sorting food at the food bank can be,” says Daniels.
Daniels sits on the board of Girls on the Run, a non-profit that works on boosting the self esteem of young women through running, she routinely host fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and mentors a Schenectady High School student through Capital Region Sponsor-a-Scholar.
Daniels laughs when asked about her volunteer work. “I’m working on a little bit of a better balance,” she says. “You can’t do anything in a vacuum and everything I’ve done I’ve done with the support of a lot of people: friends, staff, board members. It is something I feel lucky about in this job–the folks I’ve been able to meet, the LLS campaign, I can see everything I do all coming back to my job as. I sit on the board of Girls on the Run of the Capital Region and the focus of that organization, lifting up women professionally is a passion of mine. They actually announced they are going to move their 5K to the harbor from Albany.”
In the end, for Daniels, it all comes back to Schenectady: “I had such a great experience at Schenectady High, so here is that chip on my shoulder. I hate when people put down public schools. I received such a wonderful education and I still have connections with faculty there.”