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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.

"Confused" Finger Lakes council seeks more clarity in round 2

Zack Seward
Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council co-chairs Danny Wegman and Joel Seligman flank Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy at Wednesday's public session.

The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council held its first meeting of 2012 Wednesday. It was the council's first public session since disappointing funding results were announced last December.

Details of the second round of regional council funding are still fuzzy.

But if one thing was for sure, it was this: Council members were not admitting defeat.

"First, we were winners," insisted council co-chair and University of Rochester president Joel Seligman.Seligman touted the $68.8 million in economic development funding the nine-county region took home last December. He also pointed to Cuomo's recent $26 million budget commitment to the first phase of Rochester's I-390 interchange project.

But he also admitted there was "confusion" during last year's process about how the funding would work.

Seligman told reporters that the regional council process needs more clarity.

"Our plans are to create jobs, jobs, jobs. Economic development was supposed to be the lead of it," said Seligman. "We executed that in the delivery of the plan. We'll continue to go forward."

"Supposed to" are the key words there.

Much of the funding doled out to the Finger Lakes is actually slated for housing projects - not the high tech, job creators the council had stressed.

The local project set to receive the most funding out of the regional council process is 60 units of senior housing. The $9.1 million investment is expected to create about 30 permanent jobs.

Seligman says the main point of confusion stemmed from a lack of clarity about the relationship between the $200 million set aside by the governor and the $800 million made available through existing funding streams.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, who leads the councils for the state, was also at Wednesday's meeting.

He agrees that better communication will be needed for the second round of regional council funding.

"Sometimes communication is a two-way street," Duffy said. "We just need to make sure we clarify. Because some issues were raised by council members where [the state] could bring more clarity - and I agree."

Fuzzy math

The governor has set aside another $200 million for the regional councils in his 2012 executive budget.

Additional funding is still being determined, however.

Last year the much larger pot of roughly $800 million came from nine state agencies and 29 funding streams, according to Empire State Development CEO Ken Adams.

"This year, there'll be a new alignment of agencies and funding streams," said Adams. "It won't necessarily be the same dollar amount."

Adams added, "It could be less than a billion this year."

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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