Martin Babinec, of Little Falls, is an Independence Party candidate for the 22nd Congressional District seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Richard Hanna.

By: Martin Babinec | Commentary on

At the age of 19 I was pumping gas at a Thruway service area just outside my hometown of Little Falls, N.Y. It was a minimum-wage job and as I worked my way through community college, I dreamed of life and opportunities ahead.

I dreamt of a rewarding career, a stable family that would remain close, and the opportunity to see more of the world.

Like so many others in those days, my dad was a factory worker at the Sperry Univac plant in Utica and my mom was a homemaker. They dreamed as well, believing that hard work, personal sacrifices and frugal living would help their seven children get to college with a chance to do even better than their parents.

My parents’ dream, my dream — is the American Dream.

A lot has changed for me since then, as it has for Upstate New York.

The Thruway service area is still there, but today it operates with just a single cashier instead of six or seven attendants. Utica’s Sperry Univac plant is now one of many hulking, unused manufacturing buildings that dot our landscape as painful reminders of where the jobs once were.

And while Upstate New York trains the best and brightest in the world, the pace of outmigration has accelerated because our college graduates do not find local opportunities to work in fast-growing, higher paying and new industries.

I understand how they feel because I have lived their dream. I was fortunate that I made it out, I made it big and, 17 years ago, I made it back. Because we loved this area and wanted to be close to our families, my wife, Krista, and I decided to raise our three kids in Little Falls.

And today, like my own father, I dream for my family. And I also ask myself; can my children pursue their dreams and still live in the community that we love?

I was fortunate that I made it out, I made it big and, 17 years ago, I made it back.

The answer for many is, no.

Some will indeed find satisfying work with roles in healthcare, education, retail or local services, nonprofits and government. These are forever jobs that will always be here in some form.

But these local service sector opportunities don’t have the job multiplier effect that manufacturing did, nor do they create the level of prosperity that can build and sustain the kind of vibrant communities that we grew up in.

Harnessing the power of free enterprise requires seeking the future, not looking to the past. We need to understand how jobs are actually created in the new economy, and begin the task of creating a more prosperous future for our children and our communities.

My view of building the future is shaped by the experience of having started and led TriNet, a tech-based company headquartered in Silicon Valley. Started at my kitchen table in 1988, TriNet today has 2,500 employees in 50 offices, $2+ billion in revenues and trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

I created TriNet well before the Internet became publicly accessible and our offering was something most CEOs had never considered possible. Luckily, I was in Silicon Valley, where openness to new ideas and a willingness to support entrepreneurs are central to the culture. Had I started that journey in Upstate New York with what I knew back then, I surely would have failed.

In 1999, our family moved back to Little Falls. For the next 10 years I commuted to Silicon Valley and as I traveled between these two worlds, I reflected on the great differences between them. Specifically, I wondered why the region I called home was not creating the new industry jobs I was seeing in other parts of the country.

I’m running for Congress because I know we have the ingredients in Upstate to create thousands of high paying jobs in the newer innovation industries — smart jobs that will catalyze real economic growth across the region.

I’ve been frustrated by the shortsighted policies coming out of Albany and Washington that do little to take advantage of the real opportunity we face.

I’m not a politician and I’m not promising to go to Congress to create jobs with your tax dollars. We instead have to start with the fundamental understanding that it’s our entrepreneurs, not the government, that create jobs.

My experiences as a company founder, startup investor and mentor to other entrepreneurs has helped me to formulate a plan to how we can leverage a combination of policy and leadership to catalyze growth in our region. We need to find those entrepreneurs early, listen to them with an open mind and support them in their efforts to be successful. In the coming weeks, I look forward to laying out my plan on how we do that and rebuild the American Dream in Upstate New York.