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Area business, political leaders unveil wish list of projects Agenda includes reform measures

Local business and political leaders unveiled a $443 million wish list of projects, along with a series of reform measures aimed at revitalizing the Buffalo Niagara region's economy and making it more competitive.

The regional agenda, released Thursday, backs federal funding for the $137 million federal courthouse in downtown Buffalo, as well as continued development of the Outer Harbor and construction of a new Niagara Experience visitors center in Niagara Falls.

"This is the beginning of this discussion, not the end of it," said Andrew J. Rudnick, the president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which coordinates the effort. "We need to be as aligned for what's important for our economic future as we've ever been."

Aside from the courthouse project, the most costly elements in the agenda are a push for $50 million in state funds to rehabilitate the Science Building at Buffalo State College and $45 million for improved Outer Harbor access.

The agenda, developed jointly with Erie County, Niagara County, Niagara Falls and the City of Buffalo, has been prepared collectively during each of the last six years in an effort to coordinate and combine the influence of the region's political and business interests.

"This community cannot only think regionally, but act regionally," said County Executive Joel A. Giambra. "The regional agenda has remained consistent even as administrations have changed."

Giambra stressed the importance of projects to turn old industrial sites, known as brownfields, into ready-to-build sites that can be quickly developed by expanding companies.

The list also includes $7.9 million in federal funding for a new cargo apron and terminal improvements at the Niagara Falls International Airport.

"This is our diamond in the rough," said William Ross, the vice chairman of the Niagara County Legislature, who called the airport the key to economic development in Niagara County.

Rudnick noted that this year's wish list from the business community's perspective is more about reform and legislative change than it is about individual projects.

"At the state level, the priorities are all about reengineering what is a nowhere-near-competitive business climate," he said. "Our priorities are a lot more about policies than about dollars."

That includes backing the "Unshackle Upstate" reform measures sought by a coalition of upstate business groups, including the Partnership. That initiative seeks reforms to the state's worker's compensation system and the repeal of the so-called Scaffold Law that drives up insurance premiums by making contractors liable for almost all gravity-related work site injuries.

The group also is pushing for shared management of the U.S.-Canadian border and supports the use of more sophisticated driver's licenses or other inexpensive identification as an alternative to a proposal to require passports or an ID card costing as much as $50 for Americans crossing the border.

The initiative, called "Rebuilding Buffalo Niagara" started out as the Partnership's own agenda, but has been compiled in conjunction with the local governments for the last six years in an effort to present a unified front in Washington and Albany. The idea behind the collaboration is that the region can accomplish more by working together than by pursuing individual agendas.

"Our collective futures are tied together with how well we collectively come together," said Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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