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Governor Andrew Cuomo announced early in his term that he'd be creating a set of "regional economic councils" to build plans for funding economic development across New York, from the ground up.In the summer of 2011 he finally announced some of the details of the program, to be led by Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy. The ten councils each have dozens of members, and are charged with gathering input from the public and business leaders, and creating a plan by November 14. Those plans will be pitted against each other for a pot of $1 billion in grants, incentives, and tax relief from various state agencies. The winners will get more funding, the losers will get less.But other details - like whether funding will be available past the initial term, and who will serve on the board that decides who wins and who loses - have not been released.The Innovation Trail is looking for your feedback about what your regional economic priorities are, and what you want your community to look like once the councils have completed their task.

Western New York economic council gathers for the first time

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Daniel Robison
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WNED
Members of the Western New York Regional Economic Council met with the media after their inaugural meeting, which was closed to the public.

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wned/local-wned-980466.mp3

The Cuomo Administration’s effort to improve how state money is invested in the private sector got off the ground today in Buffalo. The new Western New York Regional Economic Council met for the first time in a closed door meeting to determine what local assets could use help.

But the process for awarding those funds is still unclear.

Here’s what we know: later this year, the council will compete with nine others across the state for $1 billion in  grants and tax perks from a series of state agencies.

The councils are part of an effort to put the state’s money in places where it can be most effective, says Ken Adams, CEO of Empire State Development, the state’s largest economic development agency.

“Rather than having someone in Albany in perhaps a more arbitrary way make decisions about state resources ... you’ve got this local group providing guidance for the allocation of resources to directly affect economic development,” Adams says.

“Realignment”

The councils have been sold by the Cuomo administration as a way to streamline the convoluted and circuitous world of economic development in New York.

“This is all a realignment of existing resources without creating any new layers of bureaucracy,” Adams says.

Adams is adamant about the notion that the creation of ten new councils - each with about 30 members - will improve the way hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are allocated.

“We’ll see how this unfolds because the council has some discretion to figure this out,” Adams says.

In other words, there’s no concrete process yet for how the councils will achieve the very efficiencies that inspired their creation.

Wednesday the councils identified local assets by literally putting sticky notes up on a board, according to council member Aaron Bartley of PUSH Buffalo.

Adams admits that, in a way, the councils are making it up as they go along. There are broad goals, but the roadmap will be created in meetings like today’s.

“Before this, these state agencies were kind of acting on their own. In this process, they’re all brought together. Their actions are guided by the councils,” Adams says.

Don’t want to put people in an “awkward position”

Wednesday’s meeting was closed to the public, but the council has pledged to open up future gatherings.

Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy says the meeting today is not covered by Open Meetings Laws.

“I don’t think there’s anything that was mentioned today that the public would miss out [on]. But I think they’ll have ample opportunity in the future ... I didn’t want to put the people in the room in an awkward position at the very first meeting. But I think you’ll be happy with [the set up] of future meetings that we have,” Duffy says.

Duffy says going forward, the public will have to be involved, to make the process of doling out the large sum of public money transparent, but that the initial meeting was kept private to help the council get to know each other, and determine how it would answer its cardinal questions.

“How do we grow jobs. Jobs are the number one issue. How do we keep our college graduates here? How do we grow population? How do we make this a destination point for people in businesses?” Duffy says.

Businesses looking for state help can apply to the regional economic councils beginning in September. Winners of that public money will be announced in December.

But the competitive process will leave many projects by the wayside, Duffy says.

“I can’t say that everybody will be entirely happy when the winners are selected. Some may feel a little differently about the decision making process,” Duffy says. “But I feel like if we build in a mechanism to give feedback to tell a region why they didn’t win we really help them get stronger for the next round that comes.”

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