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More input taken on five-year plan

Buffalo area residents Thursday got a second shot at offering their input on the creation of a five-year economic development plan after some participants were turned away from an earlier forum because the venue was too small.

For the replay, the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council chose the David C. Hohn Lecture Hall at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which is more than twice the size of the Burchfield Penney Arts Center auditorium where the first workshop was held Sept. 14.

As he had done previously, moderator Robert G. Shibley, director of the Urban Design Project of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, asked the 40 participants in Thursday's workshop to rate a series of "strategic propositions" using interactive clicker technology.

Many of those in attendance appeared quite deliberative as they regarded the specific context of the 15 propositions, one which asked participants to rate their support for reducing the overall tax burden on firms and individuals, and another which asked them to rate the importance of reducing the burden of state regulations on firms while also continuing to protect the public.

"We're off to a bad start with these two questions, I must say," said Chris Weinert, a North Buffalo resident.

"Both of these questions, when I read them, I feel a bias towards business, but no innovation within business, only on whether to put regulation on businesses," Weinert added.

Angela Blue, a community outreach specialist with the New York State AFL-CIO, sought clarification on the distinction being made between a firm and a corporation.

"I think people automatically think of corporations as big money institutions, and when you think of firms, you think of smaller [businesses]," Blue said.

Former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who is now a senior staff member for Empire State Development Corp., later explained outside the forum that the questions and the format of the workshop were intended to stimulate dialogue in an effort to draw a truly democratic response to fixing some of the region's economic challenges.

"It seems to me that people were coming in with a preconceived notion that there was a bias, and there really isn't a bias. The questions, if you overanalyze them, may seem complicated, but if you simply take them at the surface they're not that complicated," Hoyt said.

"The information that is taken here is tabulated in this kind of cool, scientific way and then presented to the [regional] council members, saying this is the feedback that we're getting from the community," Hoyt added.

Much of that feedback is intended to be reflected in the regional economic development council's five-year strategic economic development plan. In addition to the two meetings held in Buffalo, the council held similar workshops in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Niagara counties.