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WNY council seeks public input on economic plan Group sets forums next month in five counties on projects to put in proposal for state funding

The Western New York Regional Economic Council is inviting the public to get involved as it creates an economic development plan for the region and seeks to secure state funds.

The council will hold public forums next month in each of the five counties it covers. It also is welcoming public comments on its website (nyworks.ny.gov) and expects to post a survey on the site by Friday.

"There's going to be lots of opportunities for the public to get engaged," said Christina Orsi, regional director for Empire State Development Corp.

The 30-member council met Tuesday at the University at Buffalo's North Campus. While a July meeting was held behind closed doors, this one was open to the public.

Statewide, 10 regional councils appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are each creating economic development plans to be submitted to the state by mid-November in a competitive process, with $1 billion in funds at stake. Each council will identify its priorities for economic development projects.

"This is the way we want to operate in the future," said Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, who is serving as chairman of all 10 councils. "I think it makes it much easier to make decisions. I think it's much more community-based."

The Western New York council is forming several work groups to delve into specific topics, such as tourism, and generate recommendations for removing impediments to growth, making changes in state policy and developing possible strategic investments, said Howard A. Zemsky, regional co-chairman.

The council will invite people with expertise in those categories to join the work groups, said UB President Satish K. Tripathi, the other regional co-chairman. "It's not really limited to the council. People from the outside can participate in that."

The council members are also putting finishing touches on criteria they will use to evaluate projects and policies for inclusion in the economic development plan. Some common themes have emerged, such as promoting sustainable growth, creating jobs and making use of the region's assets.

The 10 councils will compete directly for about $200 million in state funding, with the top four plans each receiving $40 million. The $40 million consists of $25 million in capital funding through Empire State Development Corp. and $15 million in Excelsior Tax Credits.

The next six proposals will split the remaining $40 million. No region will be shut out of that funding.

The councils can also apply for an additional $800 million in funding from state agencies for everything from road construction to energy-efficiency grants. Those funds are from nine agencies and 17 existing economic development programs.

Western New York council member Jennifer J. Parker, chief executive officer of Jackson Parker Communications, said she felt the group was "energized and innovative and looking to the future."

"Everyone is very concerned about public input," she said. "And it always feels empowering to work on something from the ground up."

Details of the public forums are being finalized. They are tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 8 in Allegany County, Sept. 12 in Cattaraugus County, Sept. 13 in Chautauqua County, Sept. 14 in Erie County and Sept. 15 in Niagara County.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com