The latest round of state funding for economic development projects in Western New York has a heavy focus on public works projects and low-cost financing.
While the region received $60.8 million in funding for 81 different projects in the latest round of awards handed out by the state through Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s regional economic development council initiative, less than half of the money is linked to specific projects and initiatives.
Almost half of the money flowing to Western New York – $30 million – is in the form of tax-exempt bond financing that can be used to provide low-cost capital for a range of infrastructure, community revitalization and public works projects. The award, however, merely gives the regional council access to that pool of funding. It does not specify what projects will receive it.
The recipients, however, will have to meet federal guidelines that limit the financing to a handful of project categories, from low-income housing, utility projects, manufacturing projects that total less than $10 million, and initiatives to furnish electric or gas, along with sewage facilities and residential rental facilities.
The funding also includes nearly $2.5 million to help pay for energy efficiency projects for businesses administered through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and another $2 million in community renewal funding that municipalities can tap into for housing rehabilitation, infrastructure, facilities and economic development projects.
That leaves a little more than $35 million that is allocated directly for specific projects.
The list of projects competing for state funds was compiled earlier this year by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, which has developed a plan that focuses local development efforts on a half dozen key industry sectors and initiatives where council officials believe Western New York has a competitive advantage. Those range from advanced manufacturing and health and life sciences to workforce development and smart growth.
“The support of these priority projects allows us to build on the work that has already begun as we continue to focus on Western New York’s strengths,” said Satish K. Tripathi, the president of the University at Buffalo and the co-chairman of the development council.
“It’s easy to be swept up in the excitement of awards and announcements about new funding, but New Yorkers should remember that these are their tax dollars,” said Tomás Garduño, political director at ALIGN, a New York City advocacy group. “We need to look just as carefully at the outcomes – whether these subsidized corporations are creating the good jobs New Yorkers deserve, and whether our communities are getting a good return on our investment.”
Among the local projects receiving funding in the latest round are:
• Doolli Inc. is getting $2.1 million in funding to help the two-year-old software maker develop its cloud-based system that allows a user to create apps that help build, publish and socially propagate databases or lists made up of text, video, audio, images and other data formats, on mobile devices, tablets and Internet browsers. The venture capital-backed company was founded in New York City but has an office in Buffalo.
• The University at Buffalo is getting $1 million in funding to expand its high performance computing and data analytics center. The supercomputing center will use the funding to buy computer servers, software and other components, UB officials said.
The resources available through UB’s Center for Computational Research can be used by local companies that need access to the facility’s sophisticated – and expensive – computers to do complex research and data analysis that can help them develop innovated new products and improve productivity.
“Not every company can support the advanced computing infrastructure or expert personnel that’s required in some industries for innovative product development,” said Thomas Furlani, the director of the supercomputing center, located in the state Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences at 701 Ellicott St.
“These resources will enable us to help business foster innovation ... and reduce the time it takes to develop new products,” he said.
Furlani said he expects the supercomputing center to play a growing role in the region’s economy as the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus expands and local factories adopt a greater focus on advanced manufacturing, which requires a greater reliance on technology.
• The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is receiving $1 million in state funds for its Green Commons project to reuse existing buildings that currently are vacant to create a mobility hub, along with energy efficient commercial space and the creation of a model home that shows how energy improvements can be made to existing buildings in a practical way.
• The Chautauqua Regional Water District received $1 million towards a $30.4 million infrastructure consolidation project that development council officials said will enhance inadequate water systems in a region that is home to many large food processors that depend heavily on a reliable water supply.
• The state is providing $1 million in Empire State Development grant funding for the $11 million project to build the Lockport Ice Arena and Sports Center, a two-rink hockey arena with associated retail services, that will be built in downtown Lockport.
• Rigidized Metals is getting $900,000 to expand its Ohio Street factory and acquire new equipment in a project that would double the capacity of the textured metals manufacturer.
• The Village of Williamsville was granted just under $800,000 in funding for a project to install bioretention, rain gardens and a green wall as part of the reconstruction of Spring Street. The project is expected to significantly reduce erosion and sedimentation in nearby Glen Park.
• The Village of Cattaraugus received $600,000 in state Community Development Block Grant funds to install new water meters and upgrade its water collection systems. Council officials said the project is expected to benefit more than 1,160 of the village water system’s customers.
• Alfred State College is getting $500,000 for a proposed Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Center on its Wellsville campus that will integrate its existing machine tool, welding, and drafting/computer-aided design students into an energy efficient facility to train students in state-of-the-art sustainable manufacturing techniques.
• The council awarded $500,000 for the third phase of a project to begin construction of a park at the Peter Cooper Superfund site on Cattaraugus Creek in Gowanda. The funding will help pay for the construction of a parking lot, asphalt walkways, perimeter fencing and landscaping.
• Construction of the Greater Jamestown Riverwalk Trail received just under $500,000 in funding to develop new concrete sidewalk paths, trail market signs and scenic vistas along the Chadakoin River with a picnic grove, playground equipment and informational kiosks.
• An unidentified 100-unit assisted living complex in Amherst was granted $7.5 million in low-rate, tax-exempt funding through the federal Industrial Development Bond Cap program, the same program that is providing the pool of $30 million in tax-exempt bond funding for public benefit projects.
• The state also is providing up to $250,000 in funding for the creation of an Innovation Hot Spot that will be linked to UB’s technology incubator and have ties to the region’s other local colleges and universities to provide support services to fledgling firms and help them convert technology advancements into marketable projects.