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Reform of the IDA system will benefit everyone

On Friday, June 1, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Assemblyman Sean Ryan invited the heads of the five suburban industrial development agencies to meet on the 16th floor of the Rath building.

As the chairman of the Clarence Industrial Development Agency and supervisor of the Town of Clarence, I have been involved with the IDA process for more than eight years, serving as the chairman of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency Leadership Committee and on the ECIDA's Policy Committee.

Knowing that the IDA system is in need of reform, it hurt to sit through a 60-minute meeting that started out contentious and went downhill from there.

At the end, we were no closer to true reform than we were at the beginning of the meeting. In truth, we never even started.

When I worked as a manager at GE during the Jack Welch era, the thought was never to bring a problem to the table without a solution to go with it. Here are some suggestions:

*Look at what the other IDAs throughout New York are doing, both wrong and right. New York has a vast system of IDAs. Information on the activities of the IDAs is readily available. I have seen lists of projects that other IDAs are involved in, and they range from just creative to downright ingenious. If other IDAs have projects, ideas and systems that are working elsewhere in the state, let's take a lesson from our own.

*Let's put equal weight on retaining jobs as we do on creating them. The departure of more than half of the executive management team from Clarence high tech giant Greatbatch should set off alarm bells within the New York economic development community. The focus (up until now) has been on creating new jobs; exactly what are we doing to keep the high-paying, high-tech jobs we have now?

*Let's look around the country and see what other regions are doing. Many southern states boast of amazing programs that combine local, state and federal aid packages they use to lure not only Northern businesses but companies from as far away as Europe. Why can't we put together the same type of programs for our own businesses in New York State?

Reform is never easy. It means change for all parties.

The sooner we get started on real reform, making the tough choices and difficult changes, the better the IDA system will be for all New Yorkers who have a chance to benefit from the increase in high-paying jobs and lower taxes.


David C Hartzell Jr. is supervisor of the Town of Clarence and chairman of the Clarence Industrial Development Agency.