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Another Voice: The Buffalo Billion is the model that will rebuild upstate New York

By Howard Zemsky

Buffalo’s economic rebirth is real. We’ve turned the corner on decades of decline, and people and businesses across the country and around the globe are paying attention. Yet some people refuse to accept the new reality and want to go back to the old ways.

Thankfully, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is not one of those people. To the contrary, he’s taking what worked in Buffalo and giving other upstate cities the same chance at rebirth. As part of his 2015 Opportunity Agenda, the governor is institutionalizing our approach with an Upstate Economic Revitalization Competition that will pump an additional $1.5 billion in the upstate economy. It’s designed to give three regions a boost of $500 million each over the course of five years – a game-changing investment that will bring jobs and businesses back to communities that have been struggling for years.

The governor’s $1.5 billion revitalization competition is also building on the successful Regional Economic Development Councils. These REDCs have been focusing on local development priorities the last four years, and they’re paving the way for long-term growth.

Another $750 million for a fourth round of the REDC program will keep that momentum going. By design, the REDC competition and the Upstate Economic Revitalization Competition will complement each other this year, with the top three regional plans upstate securing $500 million each, and the remaining seven applicants statewide eligible for a larger share of the awards as part of the REDC $750 million process. This approach ensures that no region is a loser, while also maintaining the competitive nature that we have seen work so well.

Unfortunately, despite all of the accomplishments we have made under these economic development policies, there are people who would rather see them undone. As the State Legislature has been debating the governor’s budget proposal, some have argued that we should just be giving money to localities to fund local projects. Unbelievably, some of those who hold this lopsided view are even from Western New York.

The truth is that the old approach to growing the economy has failed. That approach led New York to become one of the highest taxed states in the nation.

If we truly want to begin a new chapter in New York, we can’t revert to that failed approach. We can’t keep that pork barrel-style delivery of cash subsidies just to pump up the books of failing cities. It just doesn’t work. Instead, we need to transform their economies to be self-sustaining.

That’s the lesson of the Buffalo Billion. The path to retooling is paved with real investments that actually create jobs – not throwing away money to maintain the status quo. Let’s learn the lesson of Buffalo and build a new upstate New York.

Howard Zemsky is acting president and CEO of Empire State Development Corp.