ALBANY – Western New York was not among the big winners among the state’s 10 regions in the competition for the top funding prizes from a $738 million state economic development program. But it did come away with $52.8 million in new cash and tax incentive funding on Wednesday.
The five-county region lost to top award winners from regions including Rochester, Syracuse, the Southern Tier, the Mid-Hudson Valley and the North Country. The $52.8 million is half the level the Buffalo area received last year.
The completed list of approved projects, released by the administration five hours after the event ended, included support for a number of specific ideas pushed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, while trimming or eliminating a number of funding ideas the group offered.
A $3 million request for TheraSyn Pharmaceuticals to expand an existing facility was lowered in the final approved document to $2 million. The Finishing Trades Institute of Western and Central New York’s plan to expand training space in existing buildings was approved at $600,000 instead of the requested $1.5 million, and a revolving loan and grant fund to help neighborhoods in five counties by the Western Regional Corp.’s Community Revitalization Program will get $2 million instead of the requested $5 million. An Alfred University request for $3.3 million for an advanced materials manufacturing center was funded at $500,000 in the final award booklet released Wednesday.
A $450,000 grant was approved for the Downtown Niagara Falls Stabilization Project.
Among those funding requests outright eliminated in the final document was $1.5 million for a wood-fuel processing facility at Niagara Recovery and $1.1 million to improve 4.5 miles of Niagara Street in Buffalo.
The final plan offers bad news for the polar bears: a $1.5 million request for the Buffalo Zoo’s Arctic Edge exhibit was reduced to $376,000.
For skiers, though, there was good news: the final document does include $350,000 for new, high-speed quad chairlifts at Swain Ski Resort in Allegany County.
The announcements by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were staged in a theater near the Capitol in a highly choreographed event complete with videos and a celebrity host intended to illustrate what the governor has said would be his singular commitment in office: job creation.
“People believe in the state of New York again ... If they believe in New York, they stay in New York,” Cuomo said.
The announcement marked the second year of a program initiated by Cuomo to force regions to compete against each other by devising unique economic development ideas and possible opportunities. Last year, the state’s regions were given a total of $785 million; the Buffalo area in 2011 received $100.3 million, the fourth-highest winner.
But the Cuomo administration, cautious not describe any of the regions as losing in the competitive process, again this year gave all areas of the state some level of funding commitments – so the hundreds of local government and economic development officials did not have to leave Albany empty-handed.
Only New York City and the Capital Region, regular major beneficiaries of economic aid from various funding pots, brought home less money than the Buffalo area Wednesday.
The big honors this year went to the Finger Lakes, including Rochester, which will be getting $96.2 million; Central New York, including Syracuse, which was awarded $93.8 million; the Mid-Hudson Valley at $92.8 million; and the Southern Tier with $91.1 million; and the North Country with $90.2 million in promised assistance.
The total $738 million for the statewide grants will help fund 725 different projects identified by regional development groups. Less than a third of the total funding comes in the form of actual state cash; the rest comes from a combination of different tax-related incentives.
Even before the event, Buffalo-area officials privately sought to downplay the chances for the area being chosen near the top again this year. Besides placing fourth last year and getting one of the top funding levels, the region also has drawn some jealousy from other areas of the state from Cuomo’s pledge last year to commit $1 billion on specially targeted job creation efforts in Western New York.
That commitment now needs another $950 million to be spent following the announcement earlier this week that $50 million in state money will go into the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to lure an Albany-area biomedical research firm.
The local development council, whose co-chairmen are Buffalo developer Howard Zemsky and University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi, last year submitted a wish list of 20 projects with a price tag of $74 million – far higher than the $40 million available to the top four winners in the $200 million cash-grant portion of the program.
Local officials said there was no bad news in the announcement by Cuomo that the Buffalo area would be getting half of its 2011 award.
“No, I’m not disappointed. There was an expectation that we were not going to receive as much as last year’s round, which is understandable because we’re receiving more than everyone else when you include the billion dollar commitment as well as the $100 million released in the last budget,” Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said.
“I look at it in the context of $1.15 billion in a year and a half. I think we have a lot to be excited about. It’s an extraordinary commitment by the state of New York over the last year and a half,” added Zemsky.
Zemsky said he is still awaiting a final list of approved projects – which will be a combination of ideas generated by the regional group and state agency proposals.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of this collaborative, decentralized and strategic approach to economic development to Western New York and the rest of the state. It’s a 180-degree sea change from the way economic development was done in this state from the previous decade,” said Zemsky, who was appointed to the regional group by Cuomo and was also Cuomo’s pick as chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Officials said the second year of the program shifts to having regions develop their own plans. “Now we have a university, industry, government partnership that is committed to building a new New York, region by region,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said at Wednesday’s event.
“These are very different regions. Economically, there’s almost no commonality ... so there was never one economic template that was going to work. It had to be region by region,” Cuomo said.
The awards were announced by CNBC journalist Maria Bartiromo, who spent a sizable amount of her time on stage offering compliments to Cuomo’s time as governor.