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Melanie Littlejohn.

Q & A with Melanie Littlejohn

National Grid top executive named chairwoman of CenterState CEO, largest economic development group in CNY

By Lou Sorendo

1. Q.: How does your experience as vice president-National Grid-NYS Jurisdiction enable you to effectively lead CenterState CEO as chairwoman?

A.: I certainly think being part of a global organization and to have the responsibility for National Grid’s New York state jurisdiction from a customer, business development, stakeholder and public affairs perspective really puts me in a good space to utilize my experience here. Central New York, much like the utility industry, is in a significant transformation. This is evidenced by initiatives such as the city’s Syracuse Surge, a development plan for the south end of downtown that is encompassing more than $200 million in public and private investment. Growth and development continue as the region finds its niches, whether it involves the emerging unmanned aerial systems industry or traditional strongholds in the education and health care sectors. Transformative issues also involve the rebuild of the I-81 viaduct into a community grid design. CenterState CEO and the region can benefit from some of the lessons we’ve learned to help in the transformation that we see right here in Central New York.

2. Q.: What are some of the more significant economic challenges facing Central New York?

A.: One of the most stunning and large issues that we continue to grapple with as a region involves economic inclusion and how poverty levels here in the region must and need to shift if we want to sustain and grow to really come into our full capabilities as a region. Whether it’s rampant poverty in the city of Syracuse or rural poverty plaguing rural areas of CNY, we’ve got to deal with it. I feel there is no greater time than to step up and be part of the change. I believe I have all the experts around me, and now I just need to get them all to weigh in and figure out what the best ways are to thoughtfully move forward to drive the region.

3. Q. What is your perspective concerning job growth in the Central New York region?

A.: People don’t wake up saying, “I don’t want good and meaningful employment.” Contrary to what some might think, people don’t do that. That’s not what they want. It is vital to create jobs that will continue to provide a livable and sustainable wage so that everyone can actively play a part in the growth and vitality of the region. Education, housing, employment and then just a good environment — that creates a good recipe for a strong region.

4. Q.: Who have been some of the greatest influences in your life?

A.: I have two amazing parents, an amazing brother, and my parents also fostered 24 girls. I learned about service and commitment to others up close and personal. I had two amazing human beings show me how to give unselfishly. I also have three other men in my life that inspire me to get up and give my best every day. I have two sons and a husband that really keep me lifted to do the work that I do. I’ve been fortunate to work with business leaders who have served as powerful inspirations as well. Prominent on that list is the late Leon Modeste, long-time president and CEO of the Onondaga County Urban League in Syracuse. Another major influence has been SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley. She understands the art of collaboration and in order to get things done, you need to bring a full group of people around the table and count on your talents to deliver. President Stanley has done that exceptionally well.

5. Q.: What is your driving force as vice president of National Grid NYS Jurisdiction?

A.: I’ve been with National Grid for 25 years, and what I have learned during that time is the power behind the switch. What I mean about the power behind the switch is what the men and women who work here every single day do to help improve the lives of every last person, home and business in this region. And they do it quietly. If there is an emergency or weather-related issue, National Grid is running to it to really be there for our customers. Our objective is to keep the lights on and heat going, because we owe it to our customers. The power of the switch is what makes me come in every single day. I’m really proud of the men and women I get a chance to work with because I know who they are and what they do and how their work really impacts the fabric of all of our lives.