Business owners and other community leaders will discuss strategies for growing the upstate economy at a conference Jan. 29. Accelerate Upstate 2.0 is an economic summit designed to get input on strategies for spurring economic growth.
Craig W. Turner, vice president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, is coordinating the event. He met with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to discuss it. Here is a summary of some of the issues covered in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.
Turner: Last summer we had an initial event called Accelerate Upstate ... We brought about 300 people from all over upstate, from every sector we could find, that would come to downtown Buffalo. Essentially what we did is we locked them in a room for two days and said we’re going to come out with some solutions relative to economic development ... We had [numerous] sessions. We talked about some of the obvious topics that you would think of: our connection to Canada, workforce development, innovation, the upstate-downstate divide. From that, we put together an agenda that about six weeks later we released to the governor and to the State Legislature. We believe this agenda helped frame a lot of the conversation that took place in the regional [economic development] council.
Meyer: Cross-border [commerce] is one of the key elements. Are we making a lot of strides?
Turner: I think we are, but I would say that it’s not necessarily the state at this point yet. It’s a federal government with the Beyond the Border Accord and things like that ... That’s one of the things that we’re going to focus on in this conference on Jan. 29. One of our panel sessions [will discuss] how we manage this opportunity. We are between the largest port on the East Coast and the fastest-growing market in North America. We’re right between them. How do we make sure there’s a benefit to us?
Meyer: In a more general sense, making Western New York a more business-friendly climate is kind of an underlying goal. We’ve heard so much about New York State, its bureaucracy, about the problems that businesses face, including small businesses. Is [improving this climate] an impossible dream?
Turner: I don’t think so. That’s one of the things that we’re going to evaluate, because a lot of good things have happened. The governor has changed economic development in upstate and across the state. We’re getting people in a room on Jan. 29 to [ask] if it’s working ... The bottom line of all of this, with the incentives that are put out there, with the reforms that are done or need to be done, the question to the individual employer is, “Do I feel comfortable, and am I confident, in investing in my company and creating jobs?” That’s the be-all and end-all of everything that we’re trying to do.
Meyer: And yet you hear that state government and certainly federal government often move at a glacial pace. Are things happening fast enough?
Turner: There are a lot of things that have happened. Fast enough? I think from our perspective, we’ll never see them fast enough. But some things have happened. You talk about the [hydropower] proceeds legislation that we were able to pass last year that will provide a boost for economic development in this region. You talk about the property tax cap [implemented] last year. There are a lot of things that have gotten done that have been very positive. There’s, of course, a lot more that needs to be done.