Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's creation of Regional Economic Development Councils could be the start of improving the economy of the state and Western New York. But there are many concerns and unanswered questions, especially relevant to Western New York.
Will the "new faces" on the Western New York Council, those not previously well-known or associated with the area's business community and others, come up with creative solutions and new approaches for economic development that have eluded the many veteran business leaders on the council?
How will the council co-exist with and address the multiple and often competing industrial development agencies in the region, some of which have resorted to funding relocation of medical offices, restaurants and car dealerships and have given benefits to companies that often fail to generate the number of jobs promised?
Who will do the work of the council and what will be done if members of the council fail to contribute to the effort? Will they be replaced?
Many national polls conclude that tax incentives play a far less significant role in business location than we have been led to believe. Most job growth comes from smaller and start-up businesses. Yet New York State has given $8.25 billion annually in tax benefits, mostly to large companies. What impact will the councils have in reducing these benefits and in directing state resources to the smaller companies that are likely to produce the most new jobs?
Can the Western New York Council operate effectively on $7 million, assuming it is not one of the four (out of 10) regional councils (based on the strategic plan of each council) receiving $40 million and that it receives one-sixth of the $40 million allocated to the six other councils?
Will the council recognize and comply with the guidelines for smart growth development identified in New York's Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act?
Will the actions of the council be open and transparent?
The U.S. population is expected to increase by 100 million in the next 40 years, with much of the growth produced by immigration. Immigrants have driven the economies of many prosperous U.S. cities. Will the council help the region attract immigrants?
Will the council adequately address the demographics, the environmental concerns, the end of sprawl, the increasing cost of oil as an energy source, the preservation of the local farm economy and other long-standing problems, e.g. the improvement needed in some of our urban school systems to make our region more attractive to employers?
These Regional Economic Development Councils present a significant opportunity for New York State and Western New York. Will their members and the process be up to the challenge? All Western New Yorkers should wish them success.
George R. Grasser is executive director of Partners for a Livable Western New York.