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Another Voice: State is heavily focused on region’s freshwater assets

By Howard Zemsky

Two recent Buffalo News stories and an editorial highlight a regional natural asset that many of us may take for granted: fresh water. With Lakes Erie and Ontario in our backyard, we have a source of power, recreation and natural beauty that regions across the country and around the world envy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made this resource a key part of the continuing revitalization of the Western New York economy.

Our region has focused very heavily on freshwater assets in a way that has been very impactful, and in a way that is more extensive and comprehensive than elsewhere in the country. And we have done so with very positive results.

When Cuomo created the Regional Economic Development Councils, the Western New York Council immediately chose our proximity to and abundance of fresh water as central to the strategy that has now guided our development efforts for the past five years.

We selected advanced manufacturing as one of our three industry sectors to focus on due to fresh water; its plentiful supply provides low-cost hydropower that is a key cost factor for manufacturing, as is the water itself, which is often used in large quantities in many manufacturing processes.

Further, we added tourism as another core regional strength because just as the water flows over the power generators, it also flows over Niagara Falls and creates one of the most recognized and visited tourist destinations in the world. In fact, Niagara Falls has been a key focus area of the Buffalo Billion, including reconstructing the Robert Moses Parkway in a way that reconnects the City of Niagara Falls with its waterfront, infrastructure and programming upgrades to Niagara Falls State Park and improving Niagara Falls hotel amenities and family attractions.

We also think of fresh water as a key component of our smart growth and waterfront public access strategy, which has driven so many initiatives like the enormously popular Canalside, the governor’s creation of Buffalo Harbor State Park and continuing improvements at the Outer Harbor. We think of it as a key component of our quality of life and our ability to retain and recruit talent, particularly among the young and mobile, and we think of it in the context of our responsibility to keep clean and sustainable amenities for future generations.

Finally, Empire State Development has commissioned economic research through the University at Buffalo’s Regional Institute in support of the upstate region’s economic plans, including the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, with several regions actively focused on the opportunity of agriculture in the wake of the Western droughts. These will play out over time, but the work has begun in earnest and builds on our keen focus on fresh water as a driver of the Western New York economy.

Howard Zemsky is president and CEO of Empire State Development.