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'Unshackle Upstate' seen creating change Cooperation is key to reshaping region's sputtering economy

Buffalo Niagara Partnership President Andrew J. Rudnick believes a little cooperation can go a long way toward reshaping the sputtering upstate economy.

With more than 60 upstate businesses and groups backing the Unshackle Upstate economic reform initiative and fresh off a successful push to get Albany to reduce worker's compensation costs, Rudnick said Tuesday that business can better press its interests by working together.

"Unshackle Upstate is actually creating change," Rudnick told more than 200 local business officials during the partnership's annual meeting.

"Private sector initiative is a scarce and precious asset," Rudnick said. "If we don't collaborate, our chance of stimulating more private investment and jobs is scarce."

Unshackle Upstate is the most elaborate and most visible example of that effort, pressing for reforms that include changes to the state's Scaffold Law, which business officials say drives up construction costs by making contractors liable for all gravity-related injuries, regardless of negligence.

Unshackle Upstate also seeks changes to the state's Wick's Law, which increases the cost of public projects by requiring multiple contractors, and a series of other reforms.

"Until Unshackle was born 18 months ago, we made little progress. It was uphill all the way," said Sandy Parker, the president of the Rochester Business Alliance.

"It's still uphill all the way," she said. "But as we build that coalition, our voice gets louder in Albany."

Steven R. Zenger, the president and chief executive officer of Buffalo printing firm The Zenger Group, said the region's business officials can't afford to sit on the political sidelines.

"Political action is the only way we're going to get change around here and make this region more competitive," Zenger said.

Rudnick noted that the Unshackle Upstate initiative is not the only example of increased collaboration among the Buffalo Niagara region's economic development and business organizations.

Two of the region's health industry organizations -- Bufflink and the Health Care Industry Association -- recently merged to form the Life Sciences Industry Council, focused on the needs of local medical device manufacturers and the fledgling life sciences industry here, as well as health care delivery issues.

The partnership also is working with the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau to lobby Erie County lawmakers to fully dedicate the county's bed tax revenue to tourism-related programs.

And the partnership is working on efforts to streamline and reform the region's industrial development agencies. The goal, Rudnick said, is to create an economic development delivery system "that is an incentive, and not a barrier, to investment. We're getting close."

The partnership also is supporting the region's Congressional delegation in opposing a proposal that would require passports to cross the U.S. border from Canada beginning next year.

"Our border continues to be our greatest asset, and it's only bad policy that prevents us from taking full advantage of it," Rudnick said.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, two area executives, Zenger and Tom Stewart, president and COO of Gaymar Industries, received "honoring excellence" awards from the partnership. The Rochester Business Alliance also received the award.

The following were elected partnership board members: Wayne D. Bacon, president, Mills Welding & Specialty Gases; Thomas Blaszczykiewicz, president, Accumed Innovative Technologies; Kelly A. Brannen, managing director, Niacet Corporation; Paul Buckley, president, Applied Sciences Group; Mark J. Czarnecki, president, M&T Bank; Robert P. Fine, president, Hurwitz & Fine; Anthony J. Rizzo, vice president, Citizens Bank; Edward Walsh Jr., president and COO, Walsh Duffield Cos.,Inc.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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