New North Country Economic Development Council will wield huge clout

I didn't realize until I went to last night's regional economic development council gathering in Elizabethtown just how influential that new group — created by Governor Andrew Cuomo — will be.

After taking input from across the North Country, the group will now move quickly to draft a plan designed to shape economic development in the region over the next five years.

A final version will be created by November 4th and sent to Albany, where it will shape what economic development projects in our region are funded.

The group will also have the final say about which specific initiatives are placed on a priority list for state dollars that could total roughly $40 million next year alone.

At last night's session, the Council's leaders acknowledged that the final plan will be completed and sent to the governor without the public having a chance to review the document — a fact that drew criticism.

"I've been a little surprised and frankly disappointed at how little information this regional economic development council is putting on line," said Stu Baker from Ticonderoga.

"You're looking for comments on a plan under development and there have been no draft materials placed out there for us to comment on and I think that's a big mistake."

There's no sign that the Council is trying to be secretive or coy about the process, or its priorities.

On the contrary, members have fanned out across the region collecting opinions and ideas.  But they are also moving very quickly, trying to meet a deadline set by the governor.

It also remains unclear what process the group will use to make final decisions, which will shape controversial initiatives such as the I-98 or "rooftop highway" proposal.

Another fact that I hadn't understood before last night is that this Council will also have the enormous responsibility of judging future economic development proposals that apply for state funding.

The group will score projects on a scale from 1 to 20.  That grade will make up fully a fifth of each project's total score when being evaluated in Albany for taxpayer dollars.

That's a lot of clout for this new organization.  Members of the Council acknowledge that there are still some growing pains, and some details to be worked out about how this will all work.

But co-chair Tony Collins — president of Clarkson University — said last night that he's confident that an "objective" set of criteria will be established to rate future projects.

So what do you think?  Are you comfortable with how this new plan is being developed?  Hopeful that it will move the region forward?

And do you like the idea of the Council playing a permanent, on-going role in shaping which projects the state funds?

Final decisions about the plan will look like will be made without

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12 Responses to “New North Country Economic Development Council will wield huge clout”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    These "new" EDC groups from around the state seem to be populated with the same old "movers and shakers" who have proven again and again to find the same old solutions to our economic problems — most of those solutions involve giving money to businessmen who either fail to deliver or turn out to be outright frauds.

    I am not saying that some good has come out of these groups but I question why the first proposal from the "new" group isn't to abolish the hundreds of EDC's around the state.

    A thousand monkeys with a thousand EDC forms might do just as good a job at economic development. Unless of course you understand that the job of EDC's to this point was to put money into the pockets of the already wealthy or well connected. What ever happened to the FREE MARKET?

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  2. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I'm curious if they plan to build safeguards into this new process in order to end the outright fraud and abuse that occurred in the past with regard to the EDZ program and other initiatives.

    For instance preventing elected officials from passing along money from economic development slush funds to certain individuals or businesses once that individual made a fat contribution to their campaign fund. Or the infamous "shirt changers" that collected huge amounts of EDZ funds simply by changing their company name every so many years.

    Without significant reform on how the money is not only awarded, but how it's followed and success determined, it's all meaningless and the system will be ripe for abuse once again.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    In theory the EDC's are good but the proof will be in the pudding.
    One observation on a bit of incongruity coming out of our fearless, former Democrat and current Republican Governor Cuomo is how this looks like a bait and switch operation.
    While the governor takes money from schools and local governments who are in many instances prime sources of jobs in the North Country, funds that should be coming from Banks and Wall Street aren't, he tosses a few dollars for everyone to fight over and then expects us to say thank you. And just how many of these precious dollars will end up in the pockets of consultants and engineering firms before one dollar is spent actually producing a job?
    I wish everyone well because I know many who are sincere in these EDC's. What bothers me is how we are supposed to scramble for the petty change the emperor is tossing on the floor.

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  4. dbw says:

    It will be interesting to see if these Regional councils really have an impact, despite regional planning of this kind being the current model around the country. The members of the NC regional councils are putting in an incredible amount of time to get this started. Thinking ahead, the council has no funding or staffing. Just how are they expected to carry out their work when members have day jobs? As for I-98 there is very little real support for the project. It has been largely a public relations effort, and has not generated much serious interest outside of St.Lawrence County. It is just so much smoke and mirrors. Certainly the state is more interested in building roads based on traffic needs, not as economic development projects.

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  5. Stu Baker says:

    On the Frequently Asked Questions secton Governor Cuomo's website for the REDC effort, it states:

    "To ensure a transparent process, Regional Councils will host public sessions. Regional Councils are also encouraged to design innovative ways for stakeholders and the public to actively participate in the planning process. Meeting dates and locations will be available online. In addition, Strategic Plans and progress reports will be posted on http://www.nyworks.ny.gov." (Source: http://nyworks.ny.gov/faq#14)

    If you review the various REDC websites Many REDCs have met this apparent mandate by posting all council and subcommittee minutes, progress reports and draft materials.

    The North Country REDC has only posted main Council agendas and meeting summaries. There are limited "progress reports" posted. (See http://nyworks.ny.gov/content/north-country)

    Unlike other REDC websites, no information provided about who sits on the subcommittees and what these subcommittees have discussed. (See http://nyworks.ny.gov for links to other REDC websites)

    Additionally, the North Country REDC's own schedule shows that the Draft Regional Strategic Plan was to completed by October 11th. (See http://nyworks.ny.gov/themes/nyopenrc/rc-files/northcountry/AnewVisionfortheNCEconomy.pdf Page 10 of the presentation for schedule). That deadline has come and gone, with no draft materials presented for public review. And yet the North Country REDC is currently holding Community Forums seeking public input on the work to date.

    And then the co-chair tells the audience last evening that the Regional Strategic Plan may be submitted to Albany before it is available _for any public comment_!

    I'm concerned that this apparent lack of both progress and transparency will handicap the North Country REDC Regional Strategic Plan as it competes with the 9 other regions for funding of the yet-to-be-revealed "transformative projects" proposed.

    If the North Country REDC Regional Strategic Plan scores poorly against the other 9 plans, at least we will know many of the reasons why.

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  6. Stu Baker says:

    Correction:

    The "leadership teams" of the subcommittees are listed in the August 19, 2011 minutes. (http://nyworks.ny.gov/themes/nyopenrc/rc-files/northcountry/NCRCNotes081911.pdf)

    Full membership lists for these subcommittees, meeting minutes and draft documents produced are not posted anywhere on the North Country REDC site, however.

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  7. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Stu,

    Thanks for the helpful links. Hopefully our friends in the press, local elected officials, and advocacy groups will hold the North Country REDC's feet to the fire so to speak on the required transparency of their activities.

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  8. BRFVolpe says:

    What fool used county lines to delineate regional economic development zones? The Town of Webb, deep in the west-central Adirondacks (and the largest geographic township in the state), has little in common with the rest of Herkimer County and the Mohawk REDC. If there is a windfall of economic development in the North Country, it won't blow through Old Forge, McKeever, Okara Lakes, Thendara, Eagle Bay, Big Moose, Stillwater or Beaver River.

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  9. dbw says:

    It is really disappointing that the St. Lawrence County Legislature has chosen to ask the Regional Council to make the interstate concept a priority project. This is a divisive project whose inclusion would undermine the larger goals and mission of regional economic development. It also doesn't pass the "$6.00 gasoline test" which is, "Will this project make sense when gas is $6.00 a gallon?" Projects that don't meet that test will amount to a wasting valuable and scarce resources.

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  10. Pete Klein says:

    I see a couple of problems with the regional councils.
    One – I wonder if what they are charged with doing will be able to even begin to compensate for the jobs being lost as a result to the 2% tax cap.
    Two – None of this money is really new money. It's just a different way of cutting up the pie.
    Three – These poor people who head up the councils now have a noose around their necks and aren't being paid for the dubious privilege.
    It's kind of like King Cuomo has tossed a few coins on the ground and is saying, "Here you go, boys and girls, fight over it."

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  11. Rick says:

    I'm not the least bit concerned with the Economy of the North Country. After the January APA meeting the ACR development in Tupper Lake will be permitted and all our economic ills will be cured. Mr Foxman has been promising a grand project with far reaching benefits including lower taxes for everyone in Franklin county. What could be better?

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  12. Jeff says:

    When I first heard about this several months ago the phrase that caught my ear was "we will be picking winners and losers." That bothered me-a bit arrogant. Money was not necessarily to be evenly spread around the state. At least it isn't a lot of money and they tell us it is not new money just re-shuffled money. Of course it could be taken out of the budget to reduce taxes or offset real needs.

    The concept of central planning made me think of the Soviet Union or China. That didn't sit well. However the concept of long range vision has been something I have been wondering about as we have to compete with China in particular with its centralized development operation. I don't like imposed restraints but can there be constructive stepping stones to some goal? What goal? We perceive China as making "strategic" moves to acquire resources for long term gains- copper, cement, oil fields. We did that in a less concerted way and not for national gain but for individual gain. There were times national efforts have protected such companies. The Panama Canal was a nationalistic effort that included a lot of big stick use.

    More troublesome would be inhibition of development sans government funding. If for instance banks would say we won't lend because there is no economic development money in the project.

    I think one problem with our standing government is that because it is there legislators do things to justify their job- to look like they are doing something-even if what they are doing is merely being contrary. And because things have been done by government too many people look to it as a vehicle for their interests. Many things are not needs but wants.

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