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Another Voice: State Senate threatens model for economic progress

By Jeff Belt, Virginia Horvath and Satish K. Tripathi

This year, a major issue in the state budget is how the state distributes economic development funding. This is a crucial question for Buffalo and Western New York.

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took office, he unveiled a new approach to economic development funding. Rather than have Albany bureaucrats or local politicians make decisions, Cuomo began the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) process. The REDCs are composed of business executives, academicians and community leaders. Their mission was to develop long-term plans that would produce jobs.

This new approach has clearly paid off. Buffalo is on the comeback trail. Western New York’s small cities and villages are seeing reinvestment. And across upstate the green shoots of economic renewal can be observed through job numbers, downtown revitalization and improving opportunities for residents.

The Western New York REDC forged our Strategy for Prosperity in 2011 and this became our “regional business plan.” It’s transforming our economy. Each year we prioritize additional projects that follow the plan, thus adding to a durable foundation for broadly shared prosperity.

By directing state investments through strategy, we’ve been able to achieve amazing leverage and cumulative impact. Between 2011 and 2015, we directed $57 million to 65 priority projects worth $439 million – we achieved 8:1 leverage with the state’s investment! Additionally, most of these projects have had transformational impact in their communities.

The rest of the country has noticed. Buffalo is cool again and the REDCs have become a national model.

With an emphasis on key priorities like smart growth, innovation, workforce development, advanced manufacturing and tourism, Western New York added more than 26,800 jobs since 2010. Perhaps just as important, we stopped the “brain drain.” For the first time in decades, young people are choosing to stay and invest their talents right here in Western New York.

Despite these successes, the State Senate has proposed changes to the program. These changes could undo the progress we have made. We cannot go back.

We are breathing new life into our downtowns from Jamestown to Buffalo to Niagara Falls; we have made strategic investments in emerging research and technologies, and we have shored up core Western New York industries like advanced manufacturing and clean energy.

The Senate has proposed ending the REDCs and going back to the old policy of local legislators distributing funding. The governor has said he would end the funding before resorting back to “pork barrel” spending, and we concur with him.

We say to the Legislature: Don’t fix what is not broken. Legislators must realize that jobs are created by regional business plans, not political plums. Western New York is growing – let’s keep going.

Jeff Belt and Virginia Horvath are co-chairmen of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. Satish K. Tripathi is past co-chairman.

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