© 2021 Innovation Trail
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.

Biz leaders add their 2 cents to future of Finger Lakes economy


With a distinctly college orientation-like vibe, the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council hosted a public input session at Monroe Community College Tuesday night.

Organizers say nearly 200 people - mostly members of the region's far-flung business community - showed up to throw in their two cents.

The question posed by council leadership: What should our priorities be?

Bob McNary, the regional director of Empire State Development (and, therefore, the executive director of the regional council) says the point of the so-called community workshop was to "make sure we're not way off kilter."

The councils are already charging ahead, working feverishly to meet a mid-November deadline for producing a strategic plan. Initially, the four winning plans will each take home $40 million in state funds. The losing six have to split the remaining $40 million.

"We've gotta make sure that what our council members are doing is consistent with what the public wants," says McNary. "That's a big part of tonight."


After introductions from McNary and the council's two co-chairs, attendees broke into small groups and were told to come up with a list of the region's strengths, opportunities and roadblocks to success.

Graham Fennie, the founder and CEO of a Pittsford-based biofuel company called Epiphergy, described it like this:

"It's kind of like an exercise in finding yourself."

Fennie and the six or seven other people around his table bounced ideas off each other as facilitators helped move the conversation along.

"Not every idea is a great idea, but not every idea is a bad one either," Fennie said of the brainstorming session. "I think it's a learning process for us all to figure out what ideas resonate and [to help] move those [ideas] and prioritize those to the top of the list."

When it was all said and done, each table shared a strength or two, an opportunity and some obstacles.

  • "Strengths" like "Abundant Water Supply," "Higher Education" and "Entrepreneurial Culture" were typed up and projected onto screens.
  • Among the "Opportunities" were retaining college graduates, leveraging the region's advanced manufacturing sector, and commercializing university research.
  • Some of the "Roadblocks" were negativity ("from within and without," as Fennie's table put it), limited access to venture capital, and burdensome regulations and high taxes.

Several attendees said they hoped the session will strengthen the state's billion-dollar economic development push - as well as the region's chances of winning big.
The council says the public will get another chance to help out soon. Executive director McNary says the council will go back to the public with a draft plan in the coming weeks.

What do you think the region's economic priorities should be? Let us know in the comments.

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