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Region must 'get in the game' or keep losing

The upstate region of New York has a unique set of problems that demand special attention, often lacking in a state so dominated by the New York City region.

A new report, just issued by the New York State Association of Counties, titled "The Gathering Storm -- Challenges Confronting the Future of New York," confirms this. The report shows how taxes, spending and mandates have severely impacted all of New York and especially the upstate region:

"The state's population trends indicate that we are losing young families and have an aging population, an increasing percentage of whom are senior citizens on fixed incomes. At the same time, we are losing private sector jobs, and business investments are on the decline."

This loss of people and capital has been especially pronounced in upstate New York. Thirty-two upstate counties lost population in the last seven years, one of the worst regional showings in the nation. In addition, upstate's population is aging at a pace that far exceeds most other regions of the country.

If these trends continue, our congressional representation will decrease while demands for services will grow. This pressure, according to the report, will be felt especially hard upstate.

So, what does upstate need to do in order to reverse these disturbing economic trends?

*Get in the game: One of the basic rules of politics has always been: "When only one side fights, it usually wins." If there is an issue of importance to your organization, you must allocate the resources to deal with it. You can bet your opponents are doing just that. Fail to understand this rule and you become a victim of the process.

*Think regionally: Upstate organizations need to begin to drive home the message that state legislation often impacts the upstate region much differently from downstate. State policies need greater upstate perspective.

*Look for partners: There is no more effective way to approach elected officials than with other groups or as a coalition. Finding common ground on an issue with other organizations greatly increases political effectiveness.

*Understand the power of "groups of groups": Organized coalitions approaching these upstate members will allow these members to go to their leadership with a political dynamic that the leadership will recognize and respond to. Remember, the best lobbyist is one elected official to another, but all need help to make leadership understand the critical issues facing our region.

For too long, upstate organizations have failed to participate in the political process with the same zeal and sophistication as our downstate neighbors. Fortunately, this is changing, but there is no time to waste in aggressively pursuing our region's needs from state and local government.

Marina Woolcock is a principal of Government Action Professional, a Buffalo-based lobbying firm and former chief lobbyist for Erie County. The report is available at www.nysac.org.

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