Is Governor Cuomo’s division of the state into economic development zones and then having them compete against each other for hundreds of millions in state money a cure for the disease, or is it more of a Band-Aid? $100 million here and there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.
Western New Yorkers aspire to create a sustainable prosperity by utilizing and enhancing the strengths of our people, by continuing our rich tradition of human innovation in arts, education, health, and manufacturing; by leveraging our regions natural beauty and abundant natural resources; and by taking full advantage of our unique and strategic location in the world. We will create a region that is admired worldwide, that attracts more people to live, learn, work and visit; where entrepreneurs and businesses want to invest their time and capital, and where all our institutions reflect a culture of inclusion, continuous improvement, adaptation and excellence.
That sounds great, but when you look at the money that was awarded, some of the money doesn’t seem to do much towards attaining that goal. Certainly, awards to institutions of higher learning and knowledge-based industries are positive, and can help set the foundation for future prosperity. Frankly, we should be prioritizing and speeding up our slow and hesitant transition from a manufacturing past to a knowledge-based future. We should also prioritize the clean-up of contaminated, unusable land for future development. I’m looking at you, Outer Harbor. Here’s the application that the council submitted to the state.
There are some awards (e.g., renovate 20 homes in the town of Friendship, rehabilitate 25 owner/occupied homes in Allegany County) that don’t make sense from a build-prosperity perspective. There are some infrastructure projects (3 miles of rail in Cattaraugus County, an airplane hangar in Olean), tourism priorities (grape discovery center in Chautauqua County), grants to help the poor and elderly update their homes, but when you get out of the rural counties, the grants here in Erie County are heavily weighed towards helping growing and improving local small businesses, which I think is a fantastic opportunity.
In what we perceive to be an unfriendly business environment, it’s a good thing to help promote, improve, and grow small businesses in a weak economy, giving them the opportunity to grow and create jobs.
Ultimately, however, the best thing Albany can do to help revive upstate and WNY counties is give them a break on taxes, and to streamline the business development red tape – not hold an awards show without the glitz.
Frankly, the WNY Regional Development Council should replace and hopefully de-politicize the entire ESD/IDA structure throughout the region. Just as we have too many layers of government, we have too many hands in the “build business” pot. Formulating region-wide goals and priorities to prevent the sort of petty poaching, and incentivization of Titanic deck-chair rearrangement that takes place now.
Finally, for a governor who went out of his way to underscore that there is “one New York” during his campaign, the notion that there are winners and losers is head-scratchingly odd. By way of comparison, the Finger Lakes RDC, which includes Rochester and Genesee County, was not a big winner, but still got $68.8 million.
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The Outer Harbor will cost millions to environmentally remediate, but has tons of potential once this place starts getting its act together again. Here’s something I wrote about it in 2004.
Personally, I think that the outer harbor should be designed as a mixed-use urban village, incorporating the ideas of New Urbanism. It shouldn’t be another office park. It should have character – cobblestone streets and brick fronts. It should have integrated, convenient underground parking. The NFTA should without a doubt extend Metro Rail to this new community. There should be ample retail and restaurant space. There should be easy access to a waterfront promenade/boardwalk & fishing pier. The possibilities are limitless.
Somewhat unfortunately, they still are.