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An ambitious project aimed at determining what matters to Western New Yorkers is being undertaken by the University at Buffalo Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth.

"This will be a look at ourselves and what should be important to us -- it will be our major focus over the next year," institute Director John B. Sheffer II told members of The Buffalo News editorial board.

"You can't manage what you can't measure," he said. "This project will help us determine where we stand and then go beyond the indicators -- to agenda and goal setting."

Kathryn A. "Kate" Foster, an assistant professor of planning in UB's School of Architecture and Planning, is co-director of the new project with UB law professor Barry B. Boyer.

"The focus is on measures that matter to Western New Yorkers -- like the percentage of Western New Yorkers without health insurance or the percentage of area high school and college graduates taking jobs in the area," Ms. Foster said.

To determine these measures, 11 task forces representing areas of regional significance are being assembled. The task forces and the community leaders heading them are:

Economy, KeyBank District President Marsha Henderson; Education, Buffalo State College President Muriel A. Moore; Environment, UB Law Professor Errol Meidinger, director of the UB Environment and Society Institute.

Equity, Lana D. Benatovich, National Conference for Community and Justice executive director; Government, State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Amherst; Health, Donald W. Rowe, public health director of Genesee County's Health Department.

Human Services, United Way of Buffalo and Erie County President Robert M. Bennett; Information and Technology, David M. Straitiff, president of InfoTech Niagara and president and chief executive officer of Syrinex Communications Corp.

Planning, Gail Johnstone, executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo; Public Safety, Erie County Family Court Judge Michael A. Battle, and Regional Assets, Richard T. Reinhard, chief operating officer of the Niagara Falls Redevelopment Corp.

Each task force will have 12 to 15 members, all experts in their fields, from Western New York or Southern Ontario.

About $150,000 will fund the project initially, mainly to support the work of two graduate students and a full-time professional over the next six months, Sheffer said.

"We hope to raise the money," he noted, "but we are also willing to supply it as part of our operating funds."

According to Sheffer, the main reason for the project is "the need for regional accountability," which includes "blowing away some of the smoke from a fuzzy area."

Sheffer acknowledged that the project effort "overlaps with scores of other efforts in the region" -- but he called this an advantage for all concerned.

"The institute, by virtue of its mission, means we have not one turf bone in our body," he said.

The project will have a product next spring as well as a process, Ms. Foster said: a copy of results, goals and recommendations.

"This will not be an academic report but a useful tool for leaders of the region," added Sheffer.

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