Over the next few months, the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council will analyze area industries and select an industry cluster to prioritize. The work will be part of the yearly economic development plan that the council prepares to try to get state money for key projects and initiatives across the nine-county area.
The council members were given the task this morning, during a meeting at Monroe Community College. Ryan Silva, Empire State Development's deputy director for the regional councils, told members that they should look for a group of related businesses located near each other that are at the forefront of economic growth in the region. State officials also want the councils to identify investments that would help grow that industry in the region, such as investing in new equipment that the businesses can share, Silva said.
Each year, the state sets aside funding and tax credits for economic and community development projects. The 10 regional economic development councils compete for those resources; for 2015, the state set aside $750 million in funding and credits. Over the past four years, the Finger Lakes council has received $305 million worth of resources toward 355 projects. The proposals are due in September.
The council members also got further guidance on the application they'll prepare for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, a parallel competition between seven Upstate regions (Western New York is excluded because of the Buffalo Billion). The regions will compete for one of three $500 million state awards. The council's will prepare in-depth plans for how they'd invest the money and they'll be judged on those proposals, which are due in early October.
The goal of the competition is to help communities create high-paying, permanent jobs, said Richard Tobe, Empire State Development's director of Upstate revitalization. For example, the money could be used for land acquisition and site development to attract a business, infrastructure related to specific projects, and project management services. But he told members that they need to link their proposals to data and other supporting information.
State officials hired the University at Buffalo's Regional Institute to compile baseline information on all of the regions. As part of that assessment, the institute also identified economic weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities for the regions.
The institute's Laura Quebral said that the Finger Lakes region has more farmland than any other region in the state, which she described as an opportunity. It also exports a lot of electronics and computer equipment, and outperforms the state average on private-sector job and wage growth, as well as growth in the number of private-sector employers. But its per capita income is $1,700 lower than the Upstate average, she said.
The region's tourism industry also underperforms compared to other parts of the state, particularly when it comes to attracting international visitors. That sector, Quebral said, could provide some growth opportunities.