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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.

Economic councils have arrived but will new jobs follow?

Governor Cuomo with Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She was named a co-chair of the Capital Region council on Thursday.
Matt Ryan
Governor Cuomo with Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She was named a co-chair of the Capital Region council on Thursday.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was in Schenectady yesterday continuing his push for economic growth, this time taking a harder line about the competitive element of the project.

"Some communities, frankly, [will] come up with good plans, and some communities, frankly, [won't] come up with good plans," the governor said. "And the communities that don't come up with good plans, it would be a waste to fund them."

But how do you put together a "good plan" - and how do you make it work?

Each of the 10 councils has just three months to put together a long-term strategic plan, which will then be pitted against other council plans for a share of a pot of $1 billion dollars in state economic development funds.

The governor told reporters on Thursday he doesn't believe that deadline is too tight.

"If you can't do it in 90 days you probably can't do it," Cuomo says.

What is a "created" job?

Cuomo insists the initiative is all about creating and retaining jobs for New Yorkers, and he plans to follow up with annual progress reports about how many jobs the councils are creating.

But Bob Ward, deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, says even though politicians like to talk about specific numbers when it comes to jobs, it's a very difficult thing to actually measure.

"What is a saved job? What is a created job?," he asks. "How do we know that these jobs would not have happened anyway?"

Ward believes the councils may be helpful economic tools, but cautions that they're only part of a much broader picture, which is subject to national and global economic forces.

"Capitalism is a very complex and still not completely understood phenomenon," Ward says, "so it's useful to keep in mind that sometimes our understanding of what drives economic growth can change over time."

The councils will begin meeting in the next few weeks, and funding will be awarded to winning plans early next year.

WMHT/Capital Region reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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