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Advocates Question Potential Impact of New Regional Economic Development Councils

New York City and Buffalo, NY—Members of the Getting Our Money’s Worth Coalition responded today to Governor Cuomo’s announcement of the launch of new Regional Economic Development Councils in New York State. Advocates pushed throughout the 2011 legislative session for increased action on a good jobs plan, and for more details about the proposed Regional Councils, which had been touted as the administration’s flagship job creation program for the last six months.

The announcement today provided more detail about the operations and the structure of the Regional Councils. Each of the ten Councils will have four months to develop a five-year strategic plan, upon which the competition for $200 million in resources will be decided by a yet-to-be named Strategic Plan Review Committee. Plans will be evaluated according to their vision, strategies, implementation, ability to leverage other resources, performance measures, and how well the strategic planning process engages the public and diverse stakeholders.

Members of the Getting Our Money’s Worth coalition responded positively to the development of strategic plans for each region of the state, claiming it is a positive step toward more coordinated and targeted economic development.

“The question remains however, will these Councils create the good jobs New Yorkers need?” said Allison Duwe, Executive Director of the Buffalo-based Coalition for Economic Justice. “The Governor’s guidebook is very process-oriented but doesn’t address the issue at the center of our current economic development failures: what outcomes do New Yorkers want from economic development investments? The forthcoming Strategic Plans will need to be judged on how effectively they will create good jobs, alleviate poverty, and make our communities more equitable, green and prosperous.”

Each Council will be chaired by Lt. Governor Duffy and have two Vice-Chairs: a representative from the business community and a representative from an academic institution. In addition to the members of the council, expanded workgroups will be created that will include additional stakeholders. The announcement did not name the members of the Councils.

“We are excited about the emphasis on the public process in creating the strategic plans. However, we wonder how truly bottom-up this process will be given the extremely short time-frame, the size of the task presented by the Governor and the fact that we don’t yet know who is going to sit on the Regional Councils themselves. We hope to see the voices of community, labor, environmental, and small business stakeholders balanced with the usual suspects—the business and economic development officials that have been leading failing economic development efforts until now.” said Nathalie Alegre, an organizer with ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York.

Prairie Wells, board member of the City of Albany IDA said, “The Capital Region has long had problems with corporate subsidy programs that fail to deliver. Responsible IDA Boards, like one I serve on, are competing with those around us which are not responsible to the taxpayers in their communities. I’m disappointed that the Governor’s announcement on Regional Councils doesn’t address the more than $8 billion that we spend each year in economic development tax breaks, but excited to see a step in the direction of better coordination in the form of a Consolidated Funding Application process.”

The announcement about Regional Councils comes on the heels of a report from the NYS Comptroller that questions the effectiveness of Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs), the quasi-public authorities responsible for the majority of economic development spending in the state. There was speculation as Regional Councils were being developed by the new administration that they could play a role in coordinating or consolidating IDAs and other economic development entities.

“We cannot afford to continue giving away billions in corporate subsidies with no strings attached while our schools and public structures crumble,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action New York. “Existing entities like IDAs and new ones like Regional Councils must have a clear job creation mission, work for the public benefit, operate transparently, and be held responsible for their performance.”

“We still have major questions about how impactful these Regional Councils will be, because of their limited jurisdiction over existing job creation entities which control far more resources than what is being allocated to the councils, the extent to which diverse, community-led voices can impact planning, and the seeming lack of overall vision or baseline criteria for evaluating regional plans.” said Duwe.

The Getting Our Money’s Worth coalition plans to continue monitoring the performance of Regional Economic Development Councils to ensure that public dollars are maximizing the public good.

The Getting Our Money’s Worth Coalition is a broad coalition of public policy experts, government watchdogs, labor unions, community and religious organizations, and concerned small business owners, workers and taxpayers. The statewide coalition is anchored by ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York and the Buffalo-based Coalition for Economic Justice