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Empowering regions

In less than a year on the job, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it clear that he is undaunted by challenges many people view as impossible. Win passage of a state budget that actually cuts spending? They said it could not be done, but he did it. Enact a property tax cap? Same thing.

Last week, Mr. Cuomo said he would move on to Phase 2 of his governorship and what would appear to be his biggest challenge yet: reviving New York’s economy.
 
How does he plan to do it? The chief tool will be 10 regional economic development councils designed to transform the way the public and private sectors work together to generate jobs and economic activity. The idea is modeled on the federal Empowerment Zone program he helped implement under President Bill Clinton.
 
Much attention so far has focused on the competitive nature of this new approach. Initially, each regional council will vie for a total of $200 million in grants and tax credits to be awarded based on the quality of five-year strategic plans submitted to the state. Four regions will receive $40 million each in capital funding and tax credits; the remaining allocations will be divided among the other six regions.
 
This design has caused some to worry that the lion’s share of the money will go to regions with the most political clout. While this concern is understandable, it appears to be overstated. The plan calls for a non-partisan committee to evaluate the proposals.
 
University of Rochester president Joel Seligman, co-chairman of the Finger Lakes regional council, thinks this approach makes sense. "The competitive nature of the regional councils," he said in statement, "will enhance the quality of the proposals and not only benefit our region, but New York as a whole."
 
Further, the $200 million in grants and tax credits is only part of the money available to the councils. They will be able to apply through a streamlined, consolidated process for money from a combined pool of up to $1 billion made available by nine state agencies and authorities.

Too often, economic development efforts have been undermined by top-down state models and a lack of collaboration at the regional level. Mr. Cuomo’s strategy addresses both shortcomings. While it’s not guaranteed success, his approach deserves support.

7/29/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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