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The Empire

Governor Cuomo hands out Regional Economic Council awards

Courtesy of the Governor's office. ( )

Governor Andrew Cuomo and other state elected leader today handed out the first set of grants to the Regional Economic Councils as part of an economic proposal competition meant to help spur job growth throughout the state.

"The plans submitted by all ten regions were truly extraordinary,” the Governor said in statement. “For the first time, we are putting the power of the State Government behind the innovation of our people, giving them the tools to rebuild our economy."

All the regions received some form of funding, with a total of $785 million in grants for projects throughout the state. The four big regional winners were Central New York, the North Country, Long Island, and Western New York:

  • Central New York -- $103.7 million
  • North Country -- $103.2 million
  • Long Island -- $101.6 million
  • Western New York -- $100.3 million
  • Finger Lakes -- $68.8 million
  • Mid-Hudson -- $67 million
  • New York City -- $66.2 million
  • Capital Region -- $62.7 million
  • Mohawk Valley -- $60.2 million
  • Southern Tier -- $49.4 million

According to spokesperson from the Empire State Development agency, awards were based on the technical scoring from the various state agencies that provided funding for the grants. Each project idea had to first be endorsed by the local economic council.

Out of the more than $66 million in grants the city received, two projects in particular represent more than half of all the aid given. The Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx received nearly $30 million in funds to help with efforts to improve and modernize the facility. The other project, the CREATE at Harlem Green Development located in the former Taystee Bakery site in Harlem, received $10 million in tax incentives to help the factory-turned-green-commercial-space get built.

Of the 50 projects receiving grant funds, many were construction projects, park or open space improvement programs, and various job training initiatives.

“We’d always like more funding from Albany,” Julie Wood, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in an email statement. “But these funds, particularly money that will go toward the Hunts Point Produce Market – a project the City has been trying to move forward for years – is certainly appreciated and will help us move forward on these important economic development initiatives.”

A number of the New York City council’s big ticket items did not get the funding they requested, namely the Staten Island Green Zone project that requested $10 million in tax incentives, and a green manufacturing center at the Brooklyn Navy Yard that requested $10 million in capital funding.

“It’s clear that the economic development strategies of Albany’s past have failed to solve today’s challenges, and to prepare us to take advantage of the state’s opportunities in a competitive global economic,” said Ken Adams, the CEO and Chairman of the ESD, back in September at a talk sponsored by Crain's. So did the state succeed in breaking from its troubled past?

“At first blush? Yes,” said Greg David, former Crain’s editor and current professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism [full disclosure: my alma mater]. “It could have been the way we usually do economic development, which is spread it out equally. It could have been political. And it could have been on the basis of need. At first blush, it wasn’t done on those three criteria, so—hating to think that I’m going to turn out to be incredibly naïve—it would appear to have been a competitive process, yes.”

Betsy Lynam of the Citizens Budget Commission,who wrote a report back in September advising the Governor on how to use the regional councils for maximum affect, said while she felt the regional competition was a good first model, that ultimately it wasn’t the right answer for New York’s economic issues.

“This is not a new thought in the economic development world in New York State,” Lyman said, noting that Governor Eliot Spitzer had a similar plan that was never begun. “This the very initial framework here, with the competition kind of adding some juice to help them jump through the hoops again, because they’ve been involved in regional planning in the past.

“It really remains to be seen really how these councils are empowered to grow and make decisions.”

And, in the end, the money allocated is just a drop in the bucket for a state with a GDP of $1.1 trillion. But for the second day in a row, Governor Andrew Cuomo was able to check off a big to-do box in his first-term agenda list. Watching how the money gets used—especially in the North Country, where $103 million goes a lot further than New York City—will give everyone a good metric on the effectiveness of the Governor’s Regional Economic Council model.