Southern Tier Economic Development Council Presents Plan in Albany

Posted November 30, 2011

Economic Council: Rebuilding N.Y. Can Start in Tier
By Steve Reilly, The Star-Gazette

ALBANY -- Upstate New York can be rebuilt, and the Southern Tier -- with its under-exploited private-sector strengths and world-class educational institutions -- would be a great place to start.

At least that was the pitch from a group of the region's economic leaders, delivered at the New York State Capitol building Tuesday (November 29th) as part of a statewide competition for a total of $1 billion in economic development funds.

The hourlong presentation from the co-chairmen of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council -- a boiled-down summation of its 190-page proposal -- was one of 10 being delivered this week to a five-member scoring committee that decides who gets the biggest chunks of $200 million in direct funding up for grabs in the initial stage of the competition.

The Southern Tier's plan was outlined in a slideshow and video presentation by Cornell University President David Skorton and Corning Enterprises President and CEO Tom Tranter.

Skorton said the process of developing the plan helped leaders within the eight-county area -- which extends from Steuben to Delaware County -- to think of the region as a cohesive economic unit.

"This process really brought us together, and I think we'll be together and networked for the long haul," he said.

The Southern Tier council's plan proposes an investment of $122 million in public development funds over five years, which is expected to create more than 12,000 jobs and retain 3,000 more, generating a return on investment of $1,200 per capita.

Tranter said the proposed investment of public funding would, in turn, leverage $650 million in private-sector activity.

"That's a five-to-one ratio, so it's very good in that regard," he said.

The plan is broken into 14 proposals that each fall under the umbrella of five strategies developed by the council, focusing on health care, renewable energy, rural economics, infrastructure and transportation.

The proposals include:

» The Community Revitalization Project, a $60 million investment in 60 to 75 major community revitalization efforts that would create 4,500 jobs and 35 to 40 businesses.

» A Rural Initiative Venture Fund that would create 2,000 jobs through a $10 million investment in diversifying, improving and expanding the region's agribusiness industry.

» The Next Generation Transportation Development Initiative, a $14 million investment aimed at establishing the Southern Tier as a bedroom community for New York City with a high-speed inter-city transportation project.

» A three-year, $7 million regional broadband project that would connect 26,000 rural homes and businesses to enhanced Internet service.

» A $5 million investment in renewable energy that would retrofit 145,000 buildings and create 4,500 jobs.

Following the 30-minute presentation, the council took questions for another 30 minutes from the scoring committee -- composed of two state officials and three outside experts -- that will grade the proposals.

Several of the questions focused on the flooding that struck the region in early September, with the heaviest rain falling Sept. 7, the day of one of the council's scheduled meetings.

"On that day in September when we were trying to find roads to get to and from Binghamton, the majority of the council showed up," Skorton said. "My own perspective is that the flood just made people's wills stronger to unite as a region."

Tranter said the proposed $60 million Community Revitalization Project was moved from a lower slot to the No. 1 funding priority as a result of the flood.

"The flood actually became a differentiator for us because of the devastation," he said. "Everyone rallied around."

The presentation also highlighted underexploited strong points of the region: the largest wood-pellet plant in the Northeast, the state's strongest rural and forest-based economy and two nationally-prominent universities in close proximity to strong tech-sector businesses like Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and BAE Systems.

Notably, mention of one potential economic driver was altogether absent from the presentation: natural gas drilling.

Early in the process, the Southern Tier council issued a statement indicating the region's mineral resources would be excluded from its proposal because state environmental regulators are not issuing permits for hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to extract oil and gas from tight rock formations like the Marcellus and Utica shales.

With drilling out of the equation, the Southern Tier's effort will be pitted against those from the rest of the state.

By early- to mid-December, the scoring committee is expected to decide on four regions that will take home $40 million economic development packages and six that will have to share the remaining $40 million pot.

An additional $800 million in existing grants, tax credits and other incentives is up for grabs in the competition, but proposals for this chunk of funding are being graded privately by the economic councils and state agencies.

Prior to the presentation -- the first of five held Tuesday -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo greeted the attendees and said the competition has been working "even better than we'd hoped."

"The level of excitement all around the state (and) the level of competitiveness has been fantastic," Cuomo said.

"Allow me ... to thank you for your vision," Skorton said to the governor. "We really applaud the process and we're ready to compete with anybody."

"Give him two extra points," Cuomo joked.

(For story, visit http://www.stargazette.com/article/20111129/NEWS01/111290368/Economic-council-Rebuilding-N-Y-can-start-Tier?odyssey=nav%7Chead. To read the full plan, visit http://nyworks.ny.gov/content/southern-tier.)
 

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