Alumni Spotlight

Joe Stefko Leads the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester

Joe Stefko.

Alumnus Joe Stefko
(BA, MA, PhD 2001)

For the past six years, I’ve been honored to serve as president and chief executive officer of CGR, the Rochester, New York-based nonprofit management consultancy that’s been working to improve communities and local government institutions for more than a century.

A nonprofit corporation in a field dominated by for-profit firms, CGR maintains a unique space in the government consulting arena. Its status reflects a fascinating history, built around a mission to improve the quality of communities—through impactful research, analysis, consultation and data management for the public, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations that serve them.

The story began in 1915, when Kodak founder George Eastman convened Rochester’s business and philanthropic leaders to discuss a new idea. Ever the visionary, Eastman put forth a plan for a capacity-building organization to support city government and inform residents. A vehicle for community capacity building, he believed, was essential to Rochester’s prosperity.

He’d seen the model work in New York City years before, having committed his own funds to help create a municipal research bureau whose work would ultimately contribute to the downfall of the Tammany Hall political machine. Now he wanted a similar resource for his adopted hometown.

The Rochester Bureau of Municipal Research was born. Today, more than a century later, Eastman’s idea continues to flourish. Renamed the Center for Governmental Research in the 1970s, and today known as CGR, the organization serves governments, school districts, philanthropic organizations, nonprofits and higher education institutions through four main practice areas.

CGR’s government and education practice works to improve how governments—at the municipal, regional and state levels—deliver essential services, and has designed some of the largest and most impactful municipal innovations in the nation.

CGR’s economics and public finance practice works with budget and economic development offices to analyze fiscal trends, inform financial plans and evaluate the cost-benefit of community investments.

CGR’s health and human service practice works to inform crucial decisions facing governments— especially counties—in areas like public health and criminal justice.

And CGR’s nonprofits and communities practice helps philanthropic institutions and service providers ensure their investments are targeted, tracked and optimally impactful.

We operate as a full-service management consultancy, securing projects and delivering analytical, implementation and data analysis support on a fee-for-service basis. Over the past decade, CGR’s project footprint has grown to 15 states.

In the course of my role working with CGR’s team of researchers and our client communities, I’m routinely reminded of the ways in which my academic experience in UB’s Department of Political Science prepared me for the work I’m engaged in today.

UBPSC’s wide array of offerings—and faculty expertise—gave me exposure to a wide range of topics, from policy, to institutions, to public law, to comparative politics and international relations. Every member of CGR’s team brings a broad intellectual curiosity to our work, and I have UBPSC to thank for mine.

Second, UBPSC’s faculty offered me access that I almost certainly wouldn’t have had in other programs. The ability to work closely with world class researchers, and to both learn and teach every day, offered me applied leadership and professional development opportunities while I was still on campus.

And third, the program’s rigor ensured that I left campus not only with a degree, but core skill sets that were essential to professional success. Writing, research methodology, data analysis tools and public presentation—all keys to the success of the work we do at CGR—were honed during my years at UBPSC.

I hardly expected to find my calling in the consulting world. After all, I began undergrad with an eye toward law school, and four years later began grad school intent on teaching at the university level.

My UBPSC experience gave me the versatility and skills to be ready for an opportunity I never anticipated. And as I work today with a world-class team of researchers, consulting with communities on some of their most pressing challenges, I’m ever grateful for my campus experience at UB.

It’s also one of the reasons I’ve agreed to serve on the Steering Committee of Boldly Buffalo: The Campaign for UB. The effort promises to be truly transformative for the University – its students, faculty and global impact. I encourage my fellow alumni to get involved and support UB and the College of Arts and Sciences.