The wish list for 2014 from the Buffalo Niagara region’s business and political leadership puts a heavy emphasis on big-ticket projects to promote trade and dovetails with the state’s efforts to make the region’s workers and manufacturers more competitive.
Along with perennial projects, such as Peace Bridge plaza improvements and the extension of the Route 219 expressway, local business and political leaders also are throwing their support behind key parts of the economic-development initiatives from the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion investment plan.
“Our region is changing, and we have more collaboration,” said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which has coordinated development of a regional agenda for the last 13 years.
With the regional council and the Buffalo Billion initiative taking center stage in the region’s economic-development efforts, the 2014 agenda aims to piggyback on those efforts, with four of the seven high-priority initiatives included in both development plans.
“It is really important that we align with these efforts and speak with one voice,” Gallagher-Cohen said.
The Partnership’s 2014 Regional Agenda, released Monday, puts a heavy focus on transportation projects, brownfield cleanup efforts and initiatives to encourage local entrepreneurs to start businesses here.
In the first regional agenda since Cuomo announced his Buffalo Billion plan, the local leaders included several of those initiatives – including the creation of a Regional Workforce Advancement Center and an Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Competitiveness – among their seven highest economic-development priorities.
The agenda also backs the Buffalo Billion initiative for a $5 million business plan competition aimed at helping the region attract entrepreneurs by providing early funding for the most promising startups identified through the contest.
In addition, the agenda places a high priority on supporting an extension of a program to support private-sector cleanup projects at brownfields through tax credits, which local officials said are essential incentives that developers need for projects that would turn contaminated property into sites for redevelopment.
“It will continue to be one of the biggest drivers in our region … where smart growth is very important,” Gallagher-Cohen said.
Among trade and transportation projects that appear high on the agenda’s lengthy list of projects are initiatives to speed up the completion of plaza improvements at the Peace Bridge and funding for renovations of the U.S. plaza at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.
The agenda also supports improvements to the cargo pre-inspection program at the Peace Bridge and seeks “adequate staffing to make the program permanent” from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The agenda’s other priority projects would urge the state Department of Environmental Conservation to approve rules that would allow new liquefied natural gas fueling stations to be built in New York. The state currently bans the construction of new LNG fueling stations, which supporters say would encourage trucks to switch to natural gas-powered engines that burn cheaper fuel that pollutes less than diesel engines. Opponents say the stations would merely encourage a switch from one fossil fuel to another, while also raising concerns about the safety of storing supercooled natural gas.
The final high-priority project is to rally support for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station before an expected new round of base-closure recommendations in 2015 or 2017 that could jeopardize the 914th and 107th Airlift Wings now stationed there.
The agenda also includes many projects that have appeared on the list in previous years, including state funding to revive the long-stalled Niagara Experience Center proposal, which would create a new visitor center and museum in Niagara Falls, and federal and state funding to build a breakwater in Olcott Harbor.
Among transportation projects, the agenda seeks federal and state funds to continue the project to return motor vehicle traffic to Main Street downtown, between Mohawk and Court streets, and continues to back the extension of the Route 219 expressway as part of a new north-south Continental One highway.
A regional agenda, developed with Erie and Niagara counties and the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, has been prepared for the last 13 years to coordinate influence of political and business interests.
“This is really the beginning,” Gallagher-Cohen said. “We lay out this agenda and say, ‘This is what we’re all working for.’ ”