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Upstate's absentee land lord Regional development czar, governor fail to keep up appearances in Buffalo

Before winning his first term as governor, Eliot L. Spitzer toured Buffalo and the area to its east and declared it Appalachia. Critics called that absurd, but Spitzer persisted -- and the cure he prescribed was to move the Economic Development Corp. out of the comfortable environs of Manhattan to Buffalo, where executives and staff could live and better understand the problems of the area.

That campaign promise didn't happen. When he won the office, Spitzer decided instead to divide the agency into two units, upstate and downstate. But that division wasn't equal -- the state's development agency remains in New York City, and Buffalo has a branch office. Worse, when the governor appointed an upstate czar, the understanding here was that the upstate director would embrace the community and hit the job running.

Unfortunately, Daniel Gundersen ran all the way to the lush confines of Saratoga Springs, some 285 miles away. As one critic noted, that's a hell of a commute.

If the downstate people of the development agency never got it, how on earth is the upstate head going to understand and deal with our problems and opportunities if he doesn't live here? The governor may not be able to fix all the problems of the upstate economy, but he should be able to make sure that his intent in positioning the ESDC here starts with Gundersen viewing his challenge where the challenge exists -- and that's in Buffalo.

The science of economic development involves such hard facts as tax rates, skilled worker availability and the price of real estate. The art of economic development is all about appearances. And, however gifted Gundersen may be at the science of boosting upstate New York's economic prospects, he has so far fallen short in the art department.

Gundersen's new address is not exactly Park Avenue, but it's still much closer to the Green Mountains of Vermont than to the brownfields of Buffalo. To be fair, Gundersen -- like many of the corporate honchos whose future he hopes to influence -- is trying to balance professional duties and family needs. He didn't want to uproot his high-school-aged daughter just yet, even before his nomination by Spitzer wins Senate confirmation. But that confirmation became a little more iffy with the revelation that Gundersen has not yet established an address that will give him credibility as economic development czar for this region.

Even if it is a short-term layover, his choice of tony Saratoga Springs over the more utilitarian surroundings of Albany proper does indicate a tin ear for how the taxpayers and their elected representatives will receive such information. Do as I say, not as I do, doesn't work very well in any context. In economic development, especially the taxpayer-funded kind, it just won't work for the top salesman to push beer -- even really good beer -- while insisting on champagne for himself.

There are any number of Buffalo-based real estate agents who could quickly help Gundersen find a home in the Queen City. It is the first example he could set.

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