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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.

Upstate business hungry for economic council details

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David Barter
via Flickr
Governor Cuomo's plans would shift control of economic development dollars away from Albany and New York City.

New York doesn't have the best track record when it comes to figuring out how to entice businesses to come here. In fact, it's got the worst (according to the Tax Foundation's index of state business climates).

So why not take that job out of the state's hands, and let communities across the state make the call?


That's what will happen with the state’s hundreds of millions of dollars tagged for economic development, if Governor Andrew Cuomo has his way. The money would be split among 10 “regional economic councils,” that would be allowed to choose the projects to be funded.

The councils would give upstate areas the tools they need to sink or swim on their own, says James Allen, head of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency.

“We have a better understanding that we need it than some bureaucrat in New York [City] would,” says Allen. “And often times [Albany] has no understanding of the conditions in the region and therefore it’s not as easy for them to make a decision whether [a project] should be approved or not.”

Early reaction from the business community has been positive, says Kory Schuler with the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce. Support for the idea will be there, Schuler says, if the plan doesn’t increase an already stifling bureaucracy and…

“…if it replaces organizations that already exist that aren’t really fulfilling their destinies, so to speak,” Schuler says. “If it’s just to add another layer on top of things that already exist, where you’re sort of duplicating services, I don’t think its productive and I don’t think its warranted.”

Where's the beef?

The lack of details surrounding the proposal means the jury’s officially still out. According to Allen, there’s a hunger for specifics.

“The actual details and how we do it, I don’t think anybody really knows,” Allen says.

And it might be awhile before the finer points are available. Some Cuomo economic development officials haven’t even moved into their offices yet, like Ken Adams, who has been tapped to run Empire State Development.

Overall, the business community is encouraged and intrigued, Schuler says, and wants the regional council idea to work.

“We have certain needs here that have to be addressed [that] I don’t think somebody from a different region could fully understand,” Schuler says.

Local businesses aren’t counting their chickens yet though. Approval of the councils by the legislature is uncertain. Even if they’re given the green light, the plan could take months, or longer, to see liftoff.

“It behooves us to get our act together and really make sure we prioritize what we want to have happen - because the state’s not going to fund everything,” Allen says. 

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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