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The Western New York Regional Economic Development Council on Monday endorsed 24 specific local projects as its regional priorities, as it competes with three other regions in the state for one of two $25 million state awards for capital investment.
The 24 projects are intended to advance the strategic plan that the council has already developed through investments in workforce development, entrepreneurship, smart growth infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy and tourism.
If the region wins the funding, the projects could generate more than $170 million in economic activity and create or retain more than 900 direct and 2,600 indirect jobs, the council said.
"The priority projects endorsed by the Regional Council represent critical opportunities to build upon the region's strengths and competitive advantages, and immediately accelerate job creation and economic growth," said Satish K. Tripathi, co-chairman of the council and president of the University at Buffalo.
The competitive grant is part of the larger allocation of $220 million in capital and Excelsior tax credits that the state has set aside for regional strategic economic development plans and priority job-creating projects. That includes $150 million in investment and $70 million in tax credits.
Four regions that came out with the "best plans" in 2011, including Western New York, are competing for two awards of $25 million each, while the six remaining regions will compete for three more $25 million awards. The five losing regions will then share the last $25 million, with up to $5 million each. All 10 regions will also be eligible for up to $10 million each in Excelsior tax credits.
"It's been good for us, and it's been good for the state," Zemsky said. "It's been a sea change in how economic development happens."
The endorsed projects include:
. $1.5 million for the Finishing Trades Institute of Western and Central New York, to expand training space in existing buildings.
. $5 million for the Western Region Corporation Community Revitalization Program, for a revolving loan and grant fund to help neighborhoods in five counties.
. $186,000 for a 1.25-mile waterline extension in the Town of Wellsville.
. $268,000 for the Town of Ellicottville to build a 350,000-gallon water tank and water transmission works for Ellicottville and Mansfield.
. $1.112 million to improve 4.5 miles of Niagara Street in Buffalo to enhance safety, calm traffic and encourage bicycles and pedestrians.
. $450,000 to revitalize the downtown mixed-use commercial district and adjacent residential neighborhoods in Niagara Falls by attracting young adults through offers to help repay student loans.
. $83,220, in two grants, for the Springville Center for the Arts to buy and rehabilitate a building at 5 E. Main St. into an arts cafe, marketplace and housing and to fix up the 1869 Baptist Church at 37 North Buffalo St. and convert it into a multi-arts center.
. $115,000 to restore and reopen Gowanda's historic Hollywood Theater.
. 150,000 for Center SPACE Buffalo to operate a multi-tenant office facility for nonprofits, for-profits, social entrepreneurs and unincorporated community groups
.$3.3 million for Alfred University to create an Advanced Materials Manufacturing and Training Center, in collaboration with UB, to bring products to market faster.
. $2 million for Ceramic Technology Partnership LLC, a joint venture to make ceramic products using advanced manufacturing.
. $4.8 million for UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.
. $1.5 million for creation of a Deep Image Annotation Enabled Bio-Repository for Precision Diagnostics, a project of UB, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.
. $3 million for TheraSyn Pharmaceuticals to expand an existing facility and add jobs.
. $1.5 million for Niagara Recovery's wood-fuel-processing facility to recover construction and demolition wood to be used for renewable fuel.
. $500,000 for Dunkirk Bioenergy to provide an affordable recycled waste disposal alternative and lower-cost clean power and heat to two of Chautauqua County's largest employers.
. $250,000 for Germany's Lopper Manufacturing to buy and install equipment to make low-emission, high-efficiency wood-fired boilers.
. $860,771 for ProTech Automation to expand its Lancaster facility.
. $460,000 for Del Monte Foods to install more railcar staging and unloading at its Milk-Bone facility in Buffalo.
. $350,000 for Swain Ski Resort to put in a high-speed detachable quad chairlift.
. $500,000 for Allegany State Park to expand existing water, sewer, power, gas, lodging and other facilities.
. $1 million for the final phase of interior restoration of the Darwin Martin House.
. $1 million for the Buffalo Zoo's Arctic Edge exhibit for polar bears and other animals.
The council approved the proposal as officials prepare to formally submit the plan to the state by Friday afternoon, along with an update on the status of the first round of grants. A state team will then visit each of the 10 regions for oral presentations and project tours, with funding awards to be announced later in the fall.
Approval of the proposal comes even as the council pushes forward with efforts to develop plans for investing $1 billion that Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged to support Western New York's growth.
That money is not intended to be a straight cash gift to the region, but instead a mixture of bonded grants, tax incentives and other investment. And it has to be justified by regional leadership. So Cuomo directed the council to recommend a strategy that will leverage the state money alongside $5 billion in private investment, for a total of $6 billion in economic development capital.
The council is working with the Brookings Institution, the University at Buffalo Regional Institute and McKinsey & Co. to develop the plan for the "Buffalo Billion" initiative.
That process involves identifying opportunities for economic growth, narrowing that list based on an analysis of Buffalo's strengths and then selecting those that are most likely to help local companies expand, lead to the development of new companies and attract other companies to Buffalo.
The council identified advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, and tourism as high potential sectors.
It also said a focus on infrastructure, innovation and entrepreneurship, workforce and the region's proximity to Toronto are factors that can support growth across industries.
"This is not a blank $1 billion check to Buffalo. The council and our partners are conducting deliberative and diligent work to narrow our key strategies so that we can attract and create quality and good-paying jobs to Buffalo," said Howard Zemsky, co-chairman of the council and managing partner at Larkin Development Group.
"It's completely legitimate to spend this much time. We're not going to get another opportunity to spend $1 billion."

email: jepstein@buffnews.com