By Jeremy Moule
September 7, 2011
Governor Andrew Cuomo's regional councils are a new approach to economic development in New York, but locally they seem to be raising the same old ideas.
That was on display last week when the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council held a public input session. The council, like the other nine across the state, has been tasked by Cuomo with assembling a strategic plan for economic development. The Finger Lakes council is competing with the other councils for state capital grants and tax incentives.
The crowd at last week's session at Monroe Community College was asked to come up with lists of strengths, opportunities, and obstacles facing the region. Strengths and opportunities often overlapped and seized on some of the established growth areas in the Rochester region: health care, research and development work at local universities, high-tech startups, advanced manufacturing, and tourism.
As for the roadblocks, participants listed high taxes, the difficulty small businesses face in accessing capital, high power costs, and the region's poor attitude about itself.
That this has all been said before plays into critics' concerns that the council is essentially the same small circle of influential people making economic development decisions and policy.
"I think the business community is fairly well-represented on the board," says Colin O'Malley, an organizer with Metro Justice, a group that is often critical of local and state economic development practices.
Alliance for a Greater New York, a wide-ranging coalition which includes Metro Justice, recently released a report that included recommendations for the councils. One of the report's recommendations: the council membership needs to go beyond business leaders. Low-income communities, communities of color, and workers groups should play a part in economic development discussions, the report says. The councils also lack environmental voices, critics say...
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