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Area finishes seventh in race for state aid

Several local projects dubbed “job-creation vehicles” – including expansion of an advanced computing center for the University at Buffalo, a new hockey arena in Lockport and money for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to stage “Bluebeard’s Castle” – received the Cuomo administration’s approval Wednesday.

In all, $60.8 million was approved for a five-county area of Western New York, placing the area seventh out of the 10 statewide regions that competed for $716 million in economic-development cash, loans and tax subsidies.

While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hailed the approvals as further fuel to jump-start the state’s economy, budget watchdogs questioned whether the state was getting the full bang for its investment buck.

The $60.8 million awarded to the region is $8 million more than last year but down from the $100.8 million in 2011, the first year of the program.

In all, the governor announced funding for 824 separate projects during a highly choreographed event at a state theater near the Capitol.

Long Island received the highest level of funding – $83 million.

The money for Western New York will be spread across Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

The governor used the event to tout the various regions of the state, pointing to Buffalo as a place of change.

“Buffalo has a totally different energy about it, totally different outlook,” Cuomo said.

Not all of the funding ideas were accepted, including the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council’s proposal to help finance the relocation of the Flying Bison brewery to downtown Buffalo.

Other projects getting funded include restoration of a seawall in Lockport; a new grooming machine for the Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club; $1 million for a pigment plant in Lackawanna; $74,000 for the Buffalo Philharmonic’s staging of “Bluebeard’s Castle” next year; $375,000 for final major interior restorations of the Darwin Martin House; $1 million for the new Lockport hockey facility; and $7.5 million for renovation of a 100-unit senior citizen housing complex in Amherst.

The single largest allocation was $30 million for unspecified federal industrial-development bonds.

The Cuomo administration described the regional council approach, in which 10 areas of the state compete for economic-development assistance from Albany, as a “bottom-up” approach. Local officials and business leaders, with input from the Cuomo administration, pinpoint an area’s economic-development needs. The State Legislature approves funding levels in the budget each year, but the administration decides on the specific projects

Howard A. Zemsky, a Buffalo businessman and co-chairman of the Western New York panel, said the council’s approach – with a heavy focus on advanced manufacturing, tourism and life sciences – has not changed since it devised how to maximize the impact of the program in 2011.

“One of the reasons the plan is working is we spent a ton of time creating a strategic plan for our economy, and we are implementing that from year to year to year,” Zemsky said after the money was given out Wednesday.

If he was disappointed for being beaten out by six other regions from around the state in the money race, Zemsky wasn’t expressing it.

“It’s great for Western New York,” he said.

A budget watchdog, however, questioned the Cuomo administration’s assertions that the regional council approach is helping to turn around the state’s economy.

E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, said job creation in New York trailed the nation in 2001 and 2012, with upstate metropolitan areas further behind.

“If it’s working, there’s scant evidence of it in the employment data,” McMahon said.

Not all were excited with the funding announcements, which came two days after the Alliance for a Greater New York, a left-leaning advocacy group, reported that the regional council awards account for only 6 percent of what it says amounts to $7 billion in various corporate subsidies each year.


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