Buffalo regional council kicks off 2012 season

Jan 31, 2012

Meeting for the first time since winning $100 million in a state competition late last year, the Western New York Regional Council (WNYREDC) was still aglow with pride Tuesday.

But in 2012, the council faces a litany of new tasks, starting its sophomore season with a to-do list longer than ever.

In fact, shortly into Tuesday’s meeting, the 30-member body was told their work has only really begun.

“Remember this is taxpayer dollars - so we need to ensure there’s appropriate documentation and due diligence demonstrating that the awardees did in fact do what they said they’re going to do,” Christina Orsi, a regional director with Empire State Development, told the council as it gathered in horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement.

96-way split

The state calls for the $100 million to be split 96 different ways for projects ranging from new medical research, to returning cars to Main Street in Buffalo, to job training for automobile mechanics.

Each council must provide oversight for its projects.

“The real hard work begins now. Because they were given an award and they’ll be judged on the results. Accountability is an important part of this process,” says Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, who was in attendance for Tuesday’s meeting in Buffalo.  

Most of the the WNYREDC’s 96 projects require significant private investment and could take years to complete under the best possible scenario - a fact not lost on WNY co-chair Howard Zemsky.

“The expectations shouldn’t be that next quarter all these projects will be completed and delivering results. I do think it’s important for people to realize how there is a process to convert our intentions into contracts into performance measures into reality. So there is a time lag,” Zemsky says.

The regional councils aren’t just about just winning money for pet projects. From the beginning Governor Andrew Cuomo has claimed that suggestions from the councils regarding oppressive taxes and regulations will be heeded, resulting in a more business friendly state.

That’s yet to happen though, according to WNY council member and president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership Andrew Rudnick, who took the issue straight to Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy in front of the council.

“If the goal of this whole regional council process to create more jobs in this state, to put off into a process all of the improvements that anyone who’s been a customer of the state knows there’s room to improve, we can’t put them off too long,” Rudnick says.

The lieutenant governor assured the council Cuomo hasn’t forgotten about that promise.

Another Cuomo promise, to send $1 billion in state funds to improve Buffalo’s economy, was also on the council’s mind, as they’ve been tasked with coming up with a plan to spend that money.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the 30-person council promised to hire big name consultants, possibly from Washington, D.C. or New York City, to assist in drafting a plan for the billion.