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Summit will seek more upstate clout; Participating groups plan to focus on Assembly imbalance

Politically, upstate is New York's poor stepchild.

The upstate region accounts for just 40 percent of the seats in the Assembly, and the New York City population is growing faster, which will only weaken upstate's clout in the State Legislature in the future.

While regional groups like Unshackle Upstate and local ones, including the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, are focused on pushing an upstate-oriented political agenda in Albany, it's a tough sell given downstate's dominance in the Assembly.

That's where this week's "Accelerate Upstate" economic summit comes in.

The two-day session, scheduled Thursday and Friday at various locations in the Buffalo Niagara region, aims to develop a plan to spur economic growth across upstate and accelerate the pace of projects that are a top priority in the region.

"Rather than spend all our energy, emotion and resources on trying to change or bend New York State's political realities, we decided we needed to undertake a fresh and inclusive look at how -- given those political realities -- upstate can work with others across the state" on those priority issues and projects, said Andrew J. Rudnick, the Partnership's president.

The event, organized by the Partnership, will include sessions that look at building upstate's connections with Canada, developing a work force with the skills that match the jobs being created in the region and also how to develop state political policies that can benefit both upstate and downstate.

"The upstate region suffers from a lack of sufficient support from Albany," Rudnick said. "We need to get creative and focus on real solutions to our problems to get the actions we need to grow."

Amy Liu, a senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution, will be the event's keynote speaker, with a speech Friday discussing ways metro areas can cash in on developing economic trends.

Other participants include Brian McMahon, executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council; Ken Warner, executive director of Unions and Businesses United in Construction; and Garrick Utley, the former NBC journalist who now is the president of the State University of New York Levin Institute.

Within six weeks of the conference, its organizers hope to complete an "action plan" based on recommendations developed during the session that will be distributed to participants and sent to political leaders in Albany.

For a complete schedule of events, go to the Strictly Business blog at www.buffalonews.com.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com