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WNY awarded $68.8 million for economic development projects

Western New York was awarded $68.8 million in the latest round of state funding for economic development projects.

Its total ranked sixth highest among the 10 regions that were awarded funding at a presentation in Albany on Wednesday. Central New York received the largest allocation of funding, at $86.4 million.

The $68.8 million will go toward 112 Western New York projects, including funding for a sewer project along Chautauqua Lake, restoring the former Crawford Hotel in Cattaraugus, and neighborhood improvements in Niagara Falls.

More than $755 million was awarded across the 10 regions. "These awards are critical to building the foundations for New York's future and ensuring that our economic momentum continues," said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The Western New York Regional Economic Development Council in September had submitted a wish list of 25 priority projects, centered on efforts that would lay the groundwork for further investment and create other types of spinoff companies. The council received 224 eligible applications for state funding in the current round.

Cuomo established the regional competition for funding in 2011. The plans submitted by the regions are evaluated, scored and awarded different amounts of funding.

In remarks at the funding presentation, Cuomo derided the "ad hoc" approach the state used to apply to economic development. He used a Bass Pro Shops store in downtown Buffalo, which never came to fruition, as a punchline.

"How many jobs can you create with a Bass Pro Shop?" Cuomo said. "Ten jobs? Fifteen jobs? How many fishermen are you going to attract to Buffalo to generate a tourism economy? But that was the plan — that was the whole plan."

Cuomo hailed the regional awards system as a more effective method, allowing regions to identify the projects that would provide them with the greatest benefit for economic growth.

But his economic development awards program also has its critics.

Reclaim New York, a government watchdog group, called the program "a dishonest propaganda spectacle that hands (New York state residents') hard-earned money over to political insiders and pet projects."

Assemblyman Ray Walter, R-Amherst, called the event a "game show" that distributes "hundreds of millions of our tax dollars into programs that have continuously fallen short of their economic growth and job creation promises."

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