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