The past year has been a good one for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and the business group's president, Andrew J. Rudnick, credits teamwork for many of the recent successes.
"Players from across Buffalo Niagara are getting better at working together," Rudnick said during the group's annual report to members Tuesday. "There's a common theme: People coming together. People working together. People staying together."
The cooperation between the region's business groups, combined with help from local companies and political officials, contributed to progress on a variety of economic development fronts, from new legislation in Albany to share the proceeds from the sale of unallocated hydropower to the $1 billion in aid pledged by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the successful fight to block the governor's proposal to end state funding to Roswell Park Cancer Institute by 2014.
The partnership's renewed political activism, through the Unshackle Upstate advocacy group, also has strengthened the political clout of the region's businesses in Albany, he said.
"Do not think that the state-based successes we're citing today are independent of that hard work since 2008" through the Unshackle Upstate initiative involving dozens of upstate business groups, Rudnick said.
Tim Loftis, the partnership's chairman, said those political initiatives have become more important as the partnership's role has evolved beyond that of a traditional Chamber of Commerce.
"Advocacy is clearly a big part of our agenda. It's not an easy game to play," Loftis said.
"A lot of the activities we do now are beyond the realm of traditional Chamber of Commerce activities," he said. "We used to try to be everything to everyone."
Rudnick said the partnership's Accelerate Upstate conference last summer helped develop an agenda for improving the upstate economy and was a starting point for the work done later by the Western New York Regional Development Council to prepare a strategic plan for the area. That plan helped the region compete for what turned out to be more than $100 million in aid for local projects and initiatives.
"The entire way economic development funding works has changed with the advent of the economic development councils," Rudnick said. "I think it will last as long as Andrew Cuomo is governor of New York."
Rudnick said the $1 billion in aid that Cuomo later pledged for the Buffalo Niagara region is likely to be used for what he described as "intermediary allocations" that will help the region develop the infrastructure and support needed to foster the development of private initiatives. That approach, for instance, likely would favor a broader initiative to improve the region's export capacity, rather than a project tied to one specific company, Rudnick said.
"The governor needs to show outcome for his regional development councils and his $1 billion. That means it can't take very long," Rudnick said.
"He's going to have to show not just economic development benefits, but real jobs and investment."
Rudnick also highlighted the efforts of the partnership and other political and local leaders over the past decade toward legislation, which was included in the state budget approved this spring, setting aside the proceeds from the sale of un-?allocated hydropower from the Niagara Power Project for economic development projects within a 30-mile radius of the power station.
The legislation is expected to generate $7 million a year for economic development initiatives in the region; it will begin with a $15 million balance. A five-member panel appointed by Cuomo and the State Legislature will determine how the money is spent.
"It shows what we can't do on our own," Rudnick said.
Despite those favorable developments, Rudnick said, the partnership still has plenty more work to do, such as improving the coordination of local workforce development programs with the needs of the region's employers. Also on the group's plate is working with Canadian and local officials on filling the void in services that will result from the shutdown of the Canadian Consulate later this summer.