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Development report recommends new outlook, closer ties to Canada

A new approach to economic development, closer ties with elected officials in Canada and a more effective effort to match worker skills with the needs of New York employers top the list of recommendations compiled in the wake of the Accelerate Upstate conference this summer in Buffalo.

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is releasing its 12-page report today in an attempt to influence the agenda for economic development efforts across the state.

The report also urges the state to commit more funds to programs dedicated to providing financing to fledgling technology companies and to invest in transportation projects to speed border crossings and complete the Route 219 highway project in New York.

The report grew out of the two-day conference that the Partnership hosted in early August, which drew 250 business, community and political leaders in an effort to develop an economic development plan for upstate New York that was workable, given downstate's political dominance in Albany.

"It's taking what had been major redevelopment issues and finding new people to help them get addressed," said Andrew J. Rudnick, the Partnership's president. "We were determined to keep Accelerate Upstate from being just another conversation."

Among the specific recommendations included in the report are:

*Allowing a 2 percent utility surcharge that took effect in 2009, costing residents and businesses an estimated $600 million, to expire in 2014.

*Streamlining the state's environmental impact assessment process.

*Urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to convene a panel to study health care quality and seek cost saving that was formed in 2007 but has yet to meet.

*Restore state funding for the extension of the Route 219 expressway as part of a new north-south Continental One highway.

*Speed up completion of a new Peace Bridge plaza, including preclearance of U.S.-bound trucks in Canada, with a goal of reducing the maximum wait at border crossings to 15 minutes.

*Urged Cuomo to meet with Ontario's premier after the upcoming Canadian elections to set the stage for a binational economic development summit with leaders of New York, Ontario and Quebec.

*Have regional Chambers of Commerce study the job skills that local workers will need in the future, with the state convening a summit of business and education leaders to discuss ways to better link the state's primary and secondary schools, as well as its colleges and universities, with the needs of business. Reform work force investment boards to better match the skills workers need locally.

*Expand the new $25 million fund created to provide funding for early-stage technology companies, which often struggle to find adequate financing to develop their inventions and discoveries into commercially viable products.

*Have the state launch a "sister city" program to better link upstate and downstate communities that have complementary industries. The report called for expanded efforts to encourage downstate firms to locate back office facilities upstate.

The report also called for continued efforts to protect the state's fresh water resources, including the Great Lakes.

Some of the concepts included in the Accelerate Upstate report also are being discussed at the Western New York Regional Development Council, which is preparing a strategic economic development plan that is scheduled to be released Tuesday, and at the Partnership, which produces an annual regional agenda of economic and development priorities.

"Accelerate Upstate is a little broader, geographically, but there obviously are themes that cross: money, talent," Rudnick said. "We're trying to weave these recommendations into a lot of things that are happening now."

email: drobinson@buffnews.com

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