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Snap Poll: Readers’ grades for REDCs are mixed

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced more than $700 million in economic and community development awards through the sixth round of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative. The Finger Lakes REDC was named a top performer and is slated to receive $80.5 million.

Respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll were split when handing out grades for the effectiveness of the 5-year-old REDC initiative in growing the economy and creating jobs in the Finger Lakes region.

Roughly one in 10 gave the program a top score of A, compared with one-fifth of respondents who gave it a failing grade. The plurality—27 percent—doled out a C grade.

Since 2011, more than $4.6 billion has been awarded to 10 regional councils for projects that are expected to create and retain more than 210,000 jobs statewide. Of that total, the Finger Lakes region has been awarded more than $500 million.

Cuomo’s office describes the REDC initiative as a “centerpiece of the governor’s strategy to jumpstart the economy and create jobs, (replacing) the state’s old top-down approach to economic development, with one that is community-based and performance-driven.” Each REDC develops strategic plans “specifically tailored to their region’s unique strengths and resources in order to create jobs, improve quality of life and grow the economy.”

Critics say, however, that the state has done a poor job of ensuring a good return on investment of taxpayers’ money. They also say the state should focus more on efforts to improve the general business climate in New York by reducing taxes and energy costs, among other steps.
More than 350 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Dec. 12 and 13.

Overall, how would you grade the effectiveness of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative in growing the economy and creating jobs in the Finger Lakes region?

A: 11%
B: 19%
C: 27%
D: 22%
F: 20%

COMMENTS:

You mean the New York taxpayer “Hunger Games”? What a joke. And shame on our civic and corporate leaders for participating in these scams. We send a dollar to Albany, they skim 25 cents off the top due to waste and inefficiency, and then send 75 cents back to us. We act like beggars to get our own money back! And the governor goes on TV to announce how he is going to allocate our tax dollars. Like a game show host. Leave our tax dollars here. We can make better decisions locally about how to invest in our community.
—Dave Iadanza, Farmington

New York State is not favorable for business. Use the money to reduce taxes and the cost of doing business.
—Ed Rosen, Fairport

Who knows? There’s no measurement process locally or statewide, so how can anybody grade it? My score rates the inability to measure and is a press for a measurement system. The process of consolidating state grants from different agencies into one stream and process is a good idea. Having the regional counsels prepare strategic plans with priories is also valuable. However, the “slick” TV game show-like aspects with Gov. Cuomo as the host don’t add anything and might detract from the seriousness of the work. Likewise, having winners and losers among the regions each year doesn’t help. While projects like the University of Rochester’s own entrance/exit to I-390 and money for housing are important, other than the initial construction jobs, the impact in terms of true economic development can’t be measured. There are results in terms of the region’s quality of life for these projects, however.
—Bob Volpe, Rochester

While they may be effective in getting money to specific industries, there is still no immediate evidence of an improved economy in the Southern Tier. We still have outrageously high taxes, and ultimately this is the people’s money they are giving away, with very little tangible results.
—Toby Lagonegro

JFK said, “A rising tide raises all boats.” We are still a consumer-driven economy. Andrew Cuomo should take all the money he appropriated from us through New York State’s confiscatory taxes and give it back to us so we can spend it on the things we need and want. The free market picks winners a lot better than the government ever will. If we go with the REDCs, we can look forward to a lot more Solyndras.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC

Disappointingly, the standard practice in the United States (reinforced by Trump’s interference with Carrier Corp.) is for governments to “gift” money to companies to merely maintain the status quo. In N.Y., this merely buys down a company’s excessive cost of operating here. Without structural reductions in state-imposed costs (and a corresponding reduction in state spending), will Western New York achieve parity with places otherwise more appealing to business than us?
—Dorver Kendig, Webster

Unfortunately, I side with those who believe the way the council is handling the problem (throw money at them) is not the way to go. Similarly, the Rochester poverty reduction program. We have had a paid executive director on the payroll for nearly two years, and not one constructive thing to say about it!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

It seems like the cost per job created is too high. Companies who are rewarded take the money, hang in there for a few years, then leave for the next great opportunity. I believe the best use of all this money would be to upgrade student performance where now deficient. Well-educated young people find jobs. Isn’t that the goal?
—David Rubin

Cost per job—very high. Accountability—very low. Overall impact—sketchy. Degree of potential for corruption and favoritism—high. Availability for small businesses—low. Availability for large businesses—high. Do companies like Wegmans and the University of Rochester really need economic incentives? Or are they just lining their pockets at taxpayer expense? I look at these and divide the number of dollars into the jobs supposedly created and suspect that the price-per-job is unreasonably high. How about reallocating these dollars to overall tax decreases, or allocating a portion of them to businesses with less than a certain number of employees. Limit the dollars granted per job to one-fourth the average salary of job created or some more reasonable factor than the current two to three times. And require more rigorous success reporting to ensure the system isn’t abused over time. All companies should be subjected to a two stage review process. Stage one is a complete economic disclosure and evaluation of health by an independent committee. The second review makes anonymous the requests so that the requestors don’t know the specific companies requesting dollars. This separate panel judges the requests completely on the merits of the proposal and dollars returned to the city instead of on “personal relations.”
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.

I’m sure most of the money ultimately lined the pockets of Cuomo’s corrupt cronies.
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester

(It’s) not the duties of the state to pass out our taxpayer money to cover up the noncompetitive environment they have created. This just adds to corruption in how the money is handed out and the overbearing hand of Albany.
—Dom Pullano

Corrupt, crony capitalism exhibited by everything the council does. Not sure how many new jobs have been created. Not many!
—Dave Giambattista, Fairport

I would give them an F-minus. I read the list of “winning projects” in the D&C. It’s a laundry list of happy-crap. (For example, new windows at the George Eastman Museum.) Instead of confiscating taxpayers’ hard-earned money and passing it around according to their whims, why not just cut taxes so that real employers will stop viewing this state as a laughingstock? Also, they should cease touting “tourism” as the panacea. It is just a way for the rich New York City folks to enable themselves to come up here and buy up all our land and make servants of us. Stop trying to make machinists and welders into bartenders and blackjack dealers.
—Jim Cronin

We need to honestly look at how well we have been attracting new jobs, and the statistics are not good. Rochester has 40,000 fewer people employed than it did in the 1990s. We are far behind the national trend, and we are even well behind other Rust Belt cities. We need to focus our efforts on attracting new companies and growing existing companies that export goods and services outside of the region. Too many of our economic development efforts are focused on zero-sum retail and residential projects. Too much effort is being focused on a greatly-exaggerated “middle-skills gap” (which in Rochester is primarily a lack of willingness of some employers to train their employees and/or pay market-rate wages for jobs that are not truly middle skill). We need to recognize that we have a massive shortage of jobs, not a shortage of workers or real estate developments.
—DeWain Feller

These programs are a perfect example of government bribing us with our own money. We don’t need Albany creating competitions so we can gain the benefit of our own tax dollars. A free market provides a perfect competitive environment. If the government would get out of the way, we could attract more businesses and jobs. New York’s problems are structural. The right direction would be to restructure—to reduce taxes and reform our regulatory regime. A one-time grant of a large sum of money does nothing to advance the process.
—John Calia, Fairport

What needs to be rated is the payments by New York State.
—Ted Marks

The REDCs make a lot of promises that are not fulfilled. Once the funds are granted, there is no follow up or recourse to retrieve those funds. Rather than spend taxpayer money on REDCs, the state should get off the backs of businesses by reducing taxes, fees and regulatory burdens.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield

I give them an “A” for “A” whole lot of effort. “B” for, “You, ‘Betcha,’ we tried!” “C” for we really “Care”! “D” for “Doing” all we can! And an “F” for … well, everything else.
—Kenya Burn-Moore, Rochester

The whole idea of an Economic Development Council is just another of Cuomo’s scams on the public. Why doesn’t he just take the whole $700 million and put it into lowering taxes on small businesses instead of squandering it on bureaucrats’ salaries? There’d be a lot more bang for the buck, and no bureaucratic choosing of winners or losers.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport

12/16/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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