There will be no Rochester Billion. But there could be, perhaps, a Rochester half-billion.
That was the gist of a lengthy presentation this morning by Governor Andrew Cuomo and new Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky. The pair outlined Cuomo's proposed $1.5 billion Upstate Revitalization Competition, where seven Upstate regions will compete for three $500 million awards.
The competition is modeled after Cuomo's Buffalo Billion initiative, where the state promised that region $1 billion in state resources — grants, tax credits, and other forms of funding and assistance — to kick its tanked economy back into gear. The city was in the worst shape of all Upstate metros, Cuomo said, and its decline had taken a psychological toll on Buffalo residents.
"People were leaving and you felt that," Cuomo said.
Zemsky, a Buffalo businessman who's served as co-chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, offered stats to show that the Buffalo Billion push worked. He said that state investments worth about $842.2 million have led to combined public and private investment in the region worth $11.3 billion. And more than 3,700 jobs have been added across the Buffalo region since 2011, he said.
But the Buffalo effort's success hasn't been solely about the money, Zemsky said. The promise of funding came with a responsibility: local leaders would have to get on the same page and develop a strong, detailed plan and vision for the region. They had a responsibility to "do a deeper dive," he said. That meant a lot of planning, reaching out to the public, and working to identify which businesses were growing and could grow. The result: Buffalo is spending a lot more time thinking about its future and collaborating instead of pining over its past greatness and fighting over projects. Zemsky said.
"The billion worked because people believe in Buffalo now," he said.
Cuomo said that's what he wants the Upstate Revitalization Competition to accomplish. He said that he wants the seven Upstate regions to think long and hard about their economies and growth industries, and what each offers that no place else does. He said that he wants them to compete, fiercely, because he that'll result in better plans. And he said that he wants to see leaders in the regions working collaboratively, and with public buy-in.
"No doubt, it worked in Buffalo," Cuomo said. "It's going to work."
Local elected officials have been reacting to Cuomo's announcement through the day. Here are some of their statements:
"I am working every day to bring more jobs, safer neighborhoods and better schools to Rochester. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his continued investment in upstate New York, which will help with these efforts," said Mayor Lovely Warren. "We look forward to competing with our region for these additional dollars. Our city has traditionally fared well in competition for funding, and the resulting dollars have been invested in innovative projects that led to job creation, safer streets, and a better education for our children. " — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren
“I am encouraged by the opportunity from Governor Cuomo to seek funding for transformational projects that will promote job growth and attract new economic activity. I look forward to working with Mayor Lovely Warren and all of our community leaders to put forth a winning plan that unites behind our shared vision of a vibrant local economy based on growth and innovation.” — County Executive Maggie Brooks
“The 2015 Opportunity Agenda continues to demonstrate Governor Cuomo’s commitment to changing the economic landscape of Upstate New York. The Upstate New York Economic Revitalization Competition presents the Finger Lakes region and all of Upstate with the opportunity to secure critical funding that will provide a significant boost to our efforts to increase job growth and strengthen our economy. The Finger Lakes region is well positioned to compete for these funds as we boast a second-to-none work force, world-class Universities, innovative research and development and much more. I look forward to working with the Governor and all of our community partners over the coming months as we set out to secure yet another great win for our region.” — Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle
“I appreciate that the Governor made investing in the success of Rochester and Upstate New York a priority and I thank him for sharing the news in our community. When it comes to increased State aid for our region, I’ve said it before: If Buffalo got a Billion, Rochester better be next. Yet the truth is Buffalo got its Billion and today Rochester got more question marks.
"I have no doubt the world-class private sector employers and entrepreneurs who drive our local economy, and those who make up our Regional Economic Development Council, are up to the task of partnering with local government stakeholders to submit a winning bid. That’s not the issue. The real issue is that Monroe and Ontario counties deserve their fair share, but today we were presented with what is essentially an Upstate timeshare – with a lot of strings attached.
"Soon I will be announcing an economic development plan for the 55th District that incorporates local priorities and local leaders along the way. I care about this community and I want to see it succeed, but we need to get this right. Working together, I know we can and will do just that.” — State Senator Rich Funke