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New York's distribution of economic development funding smoothed out this week with the second year of competitive allocations to its 10 regional councils.
The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, after getting $31 million less than four other regions in 2011, was the grand prize winner Wednesday with an award of $96.2 million.
With $68.8 million garnered from the initial competition, the Finger Lakes council's two-year take of $165 million is third-highest.
The Central New York council in the Syracuse area has the highest two-year total. It was allotted $93.8 million this week after getting $103.7 million a year ago-one of four regions to get more than $100 million in 2011-for a total of $197.5 million.
The North Country council, with $90.2 million this year and $103.2 million last year, ranks second with a total of $193.4 million.
"They're trying to balance it, making sure that everybody gets a little something," said Brian Sampson, executive director of the Unshackle Upstate coalition of businesses and trade organizations in 48 counties.
"I mean, the reality is you're taking $800 million worth of money and investing it in the various regions. Simply from an optical standpoint, you're going to want to show some balance there. That's just a politically prudent thing to do, and I think we're starting to see that."
The least-funded councils this week and over both years are for the Capital Region and New York City.
"What it speaks to is the fact that our regions in Upstate New York have been more attuned to what's going on in economic development," said Sampson, a resident of Irondequoit. "They're trying to create plans that will identify for them the next job opportunities in their various regions.
"We've been ahead of the curve a little bit," he said of upstate, "simply because our economies started to falter a little bit sooner than perhaps the Capital Region and New York City. We had some plans that allowed for more immediate investment of those dollars that the state is investing."
The Unshackle Upstate initiative was launched some seven years ago to lobby for improving the upstate economy.
"From an upstate perspective-the Capital Region excluded-the governor understands very clearly that our regions need a little bit more assistance than perhaps the New York City marketplace has required," Sampson said.
"I think it was a combination of we needed the money, there's already stuff going on in the Capital Region, and in New York City, because of the storm, there's going to be a tremendous amount of investment in their infrastructure going forward."
State leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, scouted the state in recent weeks for a first-hand look at regional needs.
Both were in the Rochester region Nov. 27 to visit Eastman Business Park, the Port of Rochester, Midtown Tower and the former site of Midtown Plaza, and PharmaSmart International Inc. at Winton Place in Henrietta.
The Finger Lakes funding includes $4 million to help pay for the adaptive reuse of Midtown Tower, converting it into commercial, office and residential space. The cost to renovate the 17-story building is estimated at $55 million or more.
Another $4 million is targeted for the College Town development at Mt. Hope Avenue and East Drive near the University of Rochester.
The Finger Lakes was granted $5 million for the Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation, a partnership between UR and IBM Corp., and $5 million for Rochester Institute of Technology's Golisano Institute for Sustainability.
The Finger Lakes Business Accelerator Cooperative, a network of business support services and incubation facilities throughout the nine-county region, will get $2.5 million.
The Pathstone Finger Lakes Enterprise Fund, a revolving loan fund for micro-enterprise and small businesses-particularly in underserved rural and urban communities-will get $2 million.
"The $4 million awarded to the College Town project and the $4 million award to the Midtown Tower project mean that all the needed public funding for these critical city projects is now in place," Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards said in a statement.
"We are now certain that they will move forward in 2013. The next steps for the city are to continue to work with the developers to finalize necessary approvals and close on the projects' financing. The city will see more than $150 million in investment from these two projects alone."
The Eastman Business Park is the No. 1 priority on a list of 12 projects included in the Finger Lakes council's 2012 application.
The Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation is second on the list, followed by the Golisano Institute for Sustainability and the Pathstone enterprise fund.
The Midtown Tower project is fifth on the list, followed by College Town and Monroe Community College's Multiple Pathways to Middle Skills Jobs initiative. The MCC endeavor will get $600,000.
The Finger Lakes accelerator cooperative ranks eighth, followed by the Science Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park in Genesee County, the Seneca AgBio Green Energy Park at the former U.S. Army depot in Seneca County, the Finger Lakes Clinical Quality Improvement Initiative to reduce the cost of health care, and the Finger Lakes Small Business Expansion Fund.
"These funds represent a crucial investment in our plans to create 50,000 new jobs in the region over the next five years," the Finger Lakes council's co-chairmen, UR president Joel Seligman and Wegmans Food Markets Inc. CEO Danny Wegman, said in a joint statement. "We take particular pride in the fact that the state singled out our region's strategic plan for recognition."
The Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mid-Hudson submissions were each designated as a Best Plan, worth $25 million.
"This region was disappointed last year," Sampson said of the Finger Lakes. "They thought they had a very good plan, and I think they do have a good plan. That was rewarded this year with one of the $25 million bonus pools that were available."
The entire state is benefiting from Cuomo's economic development philosophy, Sampson said.
"We have a leader in the governor's office that believes in doing things a little bit differently, in empowering people at the local level to come up with the plan that structures their future," he said. "If you're going to invest taxpayer dollars in economic development, I think this is a good approach to take."
The next step, Sampson said, is to remove regulatory barriers that inhibit economic growth.
"While we continue to support the regional councils and the investment of those dollars, they have to be paired with regulatory fixes that benefit all businesses in New York," Sampson said.
"We're still waiting to see ... over the course of the next few months what those regulatory issues are that the state can embrace and fix. ... If we fix the regulatory environment, all businesses will benefit and should, subsequently, create more jobs and more opportunities for New Yorkers."
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