Bottom-up economic development
It wasn’t the Oscars, but the atmosphere surrounding Gov. Cuomo’s regional economic development grant awards show Wednesday seemed not that different. There was a lot of hype and suspense (“we are now opening the envelope”) leading up to the announcements (“and the winner is ...”).
The winner wasn’t the Capital Region. In fact, it placed dead last among the 10 regions, getting less money overall than any of them, and none of the extra $25 million awards they were competing for under Cuomo’s economic development program. It didn’t even get as much money as last year, the first year of the program: $50 million vs. $62 million.
The reasons for the last-place finish weren't clear. As we said in an editorial in 2011, the Capital Region Economic Development Council’s plan is full of good projects and good ideas that would use public money to leverage private spending (at a 1:11 ratio), promote technology and tourism, save farmland and open space, boost cities, and help the entire region. It’s hard to believe that with this plan, the region, for the second year in a row, wasn’t one of the top five, making it eligible for that extra $25 million.
James Barba, president and CEO of Albany Medical Center and one of the Capital Region Economic Development Council’s co-chairs, says it’s because the region has already done so well, with all those years of Joe Bruno largess, and state investments in GlobalFoundries and nanotechnology. A Cuomo aide suggested, in an Albany Times Union story, that it might have something to do with the plan containing some high-profile projects that would benefit Barba’s institution and that of his co-chair, RPI President Shirley Jackson — $16.5 million for a supercomputer consortium at RPI in her case. Perhaps next year the council should delete such projects and see how the region fares.
Still, $50 million is nothing to be sneezed at. Better yet, it will go not to some politically connected person or company, but to projects deemed important for the region by representatives of the region — projects that are part of a well-thought-out, long-term plan. Some of those projects are: expansion of the booming Railex facility in Rotterdam; improvement of Albany’s waterfront; transformation of the former Union Station in downtown Albany into a hub for smart cities technologies; establishment of a software business incubator by TransFinder, a fast-growing tech company in downtown Schenectady; and creation of a fish farm in Montgomery County.
And the same kind of planning has gone on, with worthy projects funded, all over the state. There are no real losers with these regional economic development councils.