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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.

Finger Lakes economic council seeks "quality of life" balance

Council co-chair Joel Seligman says it's important that the strategic plan takes a crack at "improving the quality of human existence" in the Finger Lakes.
Zack Seward
Council co-chair Joel Seligman says it's important that the strategic plan takes a crack at "improving the quality of human existence" in the Finger Lakes.

Most of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council's ten priority projects are heavy on jobs, heavy on tech and heavy on private investment. 

But buried in the council's latest draft plan are a couple of "quality of life" odd ducks.

And the council's co-chair says he's especially proud of that.

"Candidly, I love the fact we also addressed tourism, which is an important part of our region," says University of Rochester President Joel Seligman. "And we also addressed health."

The tourism project is the Finger Lakes Museum. The council is recommending that the state chip in $2 million for the $38 million project. That's twice the amount of state support the council is recommending for a Green Energy Park at the former Seneca Army Depot.

The health project is the Finger Lakes Health Cooperative, which the council is asking the state to support with $500,000.

To be sure, the two projects are the exception to the rule. The largest priority project is a $300 million biofuel plant that could employ as many as 1,200 workers.

The museum and the public health campaign are expected to create 57 jobs - combined.

"There are a number of aspects of 'quality of life' that we didn't think we could address effectively in this context," Seligman says of the regional council framework. "The ones we felt we could most directly address dealt with health and dealt with tourism."

Getting to ten

Seligman says "hundreds of projects" were considered, but ultimately the list was hacked down to 38. Each the potentially "transformative" projects was ranked by set of scoring criteria agreed upon by the council. (Seligman says Cynthia Oswald, Sandy Parker, Mark Peterson and Steve Griffin were the four people who actually applied the scoring criteria. More info on them over here.)

The ten priority projects are the ten that scored highest, according to Seligman. There's also a supplemental list of 20 projects that the council wants pursued after the $40 million in potential state prize money is parsed out among the top ten.

"These are great projects," says Seligman. "In aggregate they're going to have a real impact on our economy."

As for whether the Finger Lakes will actually win that $40 million infusion, Seligman remains coy.

"We will win in one sense in any event: We've got a good strategic plan," Seligman says. "Regardless of what happens in the $200 million competition, we're going to pursue the transformative projects over the next five years."

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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