Seven stories above the empty storefronts of Main Street, Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer on Monday introduced the man he has charged with revitalizing business in Buffalo and the rest of the lagging upstate region.
Daniel Gundersen appeared before a phalanx of reporters from Buffalo and Rochester in the Empire State Development Corp.'s Liberty Building offices as Spitzer's choice to direct his upstate development efforts.
The governor lauded him as one of the "pre-eminent economic development officials in the nation" and said his appointment fulfills a top campaign promise to bolster the state's economic development program in the struggling region west of the Hudson River.
"He knows how to get deals done; he knows how to get jobs created; he knows how to leverage the state's economic development dollars to get real results," Spitzer said.
The governor also said 20 professionals will be added to the Buffalo office to assist the new economic development officer.
Gundersen, 46, faces an almost overwhelming task. But he comes to Buffalo from running Pennsylvania's day-to-day economic development operations since 2003, following similar stints in Maryland and Philadelphia. He emerged from a bevy of applicants as Spitzer's top choice for the $190,000-a-year post, which oversees upstate operations, while Patrick Foye will direct the Manhattan office.
After listening to Spitzer rattle off a series of discouraging statistics about job loss and the erosion of the region's traditional manufacturing base, Gundersen stepped to the microphones to outline a seven-point plan he envisions as the new effort's foundation:
* Supporting established businesses by focusing on keeping them operating in the region.
* Identifying "growth-oriented industry clusters" where a competitive advantage can be developed and "benchmark ourselves to compare to regions around the nation and the world."
* Harnessing the power of universities and other research institutions.
* Partnering with the private sector to increase venture capital and to make sure state dollars are well invested.
* Making necessary changes to allow companies in this state to be competitive elsewhere.
* Making infrastructure funding available, as well as helping to acquire and prepare development sites.
* Identifying more communities in which to target state development resources.
"Gov. Spitzer has laid out an agenda with a focus on tackling business climate issues, improving infrastructure and advancing the knowledge economy," Gundersen said. "Our agenda will be to build out and implement that mission."
The new upstate chairman of the development agency promised that in the coming weeks he and his staff will meet with "hundreds of stakeholders" to seek suggestions on how to enact the agenda. He also said his mentors always advised him to concentrate on achievable objectives rather than a vast array of projects.
Gundersen's appointment ranked as one of the most anticipated of Spitzer's young administration and was announced on the governor's his first visit to any upstate location beyond Albany since his inauguration Jan. 1. He underscored its importance by bringing to the news conference Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, as well as Mayor Byron W. Brown, and constantly referring to the role Gundersen will play in such other cities as Rochester, Syracuse and Utica.
He acknowledged that the administration of former Gov. George E. Pataki also promised extensive economic development efforts upstate but said the main difference is that Gundersen will be based in Buffalo. He said that throughout his campaign he heard business leaders complain that calls were not returned and that any dealings with the state required traveling to New York City.
"There will be a decision-making capacity here," he said. "There will be a promptness and responsiveness that will be a very real, material factor."
He promised that "tangible progress" within months.
Spitzer also highlighted his appointment of Kenneth A. Schoetz, a longtime aide, as chief operating officer of the development agency's upstate branch. Schoetz, who had headed Spitzer's Buffalo office when Spitzer was attorney general, said the situation gets "personal."
"Anyone who lives in upstate can tell the sad tale of family and friends who left because they could no longer earn a living here," he said. "For us, it is real, and it is personal."
The event drew such longtime local economic development leaders as Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, who called Gundersen a "perfect mix" because of his experience and a perspective that stems from outside the state.
But Spitzer also acknowledged the need for reforms in taxes, regulation and workers' compensation. He promised that next week's budget proposals will include property tax cuts, energy investments and reform in workers' compensation.
Though he grew up in Detroit, Gundersen has lived most of his life in Pennsylvania. His move to New York was news to Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell. Kate Philips, a spokeswoman for Rendell, said Spitzer had not notified his fellow Democrat that Gundersen was being recruited.
But if the cross-border steal bothered officials in Harrisburg, they weren't showing it Monday.
"Dan was a very capable member of our staff, and the governor wishes him the best of luck," Philips said.
Tom Precious of The News Albany Bureau contributed to this report.