You could almost hear James Carville whispering, “It’s the economy, stupid,” at last week’s zippy State of the County address. With all the recent talk of our limping local economy and budgets in crisis, it’s no wonder County Executive Jack Doyle focused exclusively on jobs.
“It was more like a press conference,” says Sean T. Hanna, county legislator. “Jack was just talking about something we can do right now.”
The idea is that a gussied-up Rochester will entice businesses to expand or relocate here. The existing corporate tax-break and loan programs of the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA) will be enhanced by high-tech job training programs and new intellectual-capital incentives geared to nurture home businesses, patents, and college grads.
COMIDA would help fund Doyle’s new initiatives with fees it gets for brokering corporate loan deals. To attract even larger corporations to the community, the Agency is marketing the newly opened five-million-square-foot Rochester Technology Park on Elmgrove Road in Gates.
One past criticism of COMIDA is that it secured financial breaks for companies that relocated from the city to outlying suburbs, endangering an already fragile urban economy. Milwaukee and Indianapolis are among several US cities that offer corporate incentives but maintain regional non-aggression pacts: “Moving a business 30 miles across an invisible county border is not our idea of economic development,” says William Ryan Drew, executive director of the Milwaukee County Research Park Corporation.
COMIDA takes a different approach, Rulison says. “We can’t become protectionist about the city versus the county,” Rulison says. “We look at the community as a whole and work to attract new jobs to the entire region.” COMIDA’s BorderNet initiative defines “region” as the Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo-Ontario Province, which it markets nationally and internationally. City and county must work together to meet the needs of business, he says.
Doyle’s plan looks good on the teleprompter, Hanna says, but “my concern is with implementation. We can’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring. We need to knock on big company doors within a seven-hour drive from Rochester.”
The county will team up with the private sector to work out a county-wide business plan. “We want to make sure somebody is carrying the ball,” says Hanna, who has already initiated discussions between Doyle and Greater Rochester Enterprise (GRE), a collaborative of companies, institutions, and organizations that markets Rochester to the national business community.
GRE has a good grasp of the county’s assets, he says, but must tailor its pitch to each type of business it approaches.
The address wasn’t conventional, and wasn’t meant to be, but one constituency was noticeably missing from the table, says Bill Appel of Metro Justice. “Of course it’s important to keep graduates in the community,” he says, “but people in transition who are working themselves off welfare need economic support --- childcare, transportation, and healthcare. There are not enough subsidies, and that puts these people in a terrible position.”
Appel, who applauds Doyle’s vision for small-business incubation, says the county could help the working poor by adopting living-wage legislation. Those who contract with the county would be required to pay their workers an hourly wage of $8.52 with health insurance or $9.52 without. The city already has living-wage legislation in place.