Thursday, September 10, 2015

Finger Lakes council backs projects

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 at 7:40 AM

The proceedings of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council have, over the past few months, been a little confusing. It was bound to happen: the council has been working on several different-but-intertwined plans and efforts meant to guide state investment in the region.

Each year, the council develops a list of priority economic and community development projects it thinks should receive state funding. The council approved its 2015 list, which consists of 36 projects and requests totaling $30 million, yesterday. The recommended projects are culled from 260 applications received and reviewed by the council. The list and an annual progress report, which the council also approved yesterday, are due to the state by September 21.

The state funding requests include:
  • $3 million for the University of Rochester's Goergen Institute for Data Science;
  • $1.5 million for the Town of Alabama to extend water lines to the Science, Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing Park site;
  • $200,000 for Cadenza Innovation's planned advanced battery assembly plant at Eastman Business Park;
  • $1.5 million for Rochester Riverside Convention Center renovations;
  • $1.4 million for Marquart Bros LLC's potato chip plant and starch recovery system;
  • $2 million for Winn Development toward its Sibley building projects;
  • $500,000 for Ibero American Investors Corp. to use toward a community entrepreneurship training and micro loan program.
The council is also developing its application for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the state's competition between seven Upstate regions. The three winning regions will receive state economic development funding and incentives totaling $500 million each. 

Here's where it gets complicated. The URI plans, due on October 5, are tied into the priority projects and the annual progress report. And they aren't supposed to be lists of projects and funding requests. Instead, each region is supposed to lay out a strategy for how it would invest the state resources, and how it would use that funding to encourage much larger private investment and economic return.

"This is a way for us to articulate a group plan for the region," said Alex Costabile of Boston Consulting Group, the firm the council hired to help prepare the application.

The Finger Lakes council has chosen to focus on optics, photonics, and imaging; agriculture and food production; and next-generation manufacturing and technology. And during yesterday's meeting, Costabile presented some of the council's ideas for initiatives in those areas. Also presented were some potential initiatives aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship, workforce development, and university research.

For example, the council proposes an accelerator for photonics-related startups, so that the growing companies have access to office space, support services, and capital to help them grow. The headquarters for a new Department of Defense-backed integrated photonics manufacturing institute will be located in Rochester, and it's widely expected to encourage the industry's growth here. The idea behind the accelerator is to make sure that state and federal money invested through the institute results in commercial activity here.

For next-generation manufacturing, Costabile highlighted a project that's already in the works. The state has committed funding to attract the first tenant at the STAMP site in Alabama, a rural Genesee County town. The photovoltaics manufacturing facility will draw in a total of $705 million worth of investment and create 1,000 jobs, Costabile said.

Another potential initiative, this one in the area of agriculture and food production, is a North American Breweries-backed Eco-Brewing District in High Falls. It'd serve as a tourist attraction, but would also provide for growth in the local brewing industry. Monroe Community College would be part of the effort.

Other initiatives focus on sustainable food production, venture capital funding, and the downtown Rochester Innovation District. Several proposals focus on workforce development, including the Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center, a partnership between Eastman Business Park and Monroe Community College.

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