It was Governor Cuomo’s father, Mario, who famously declared that you “campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.” Part of the poetry of the campaign was the usual rhetoric around job creation—Candidate Cuomo pledged to focus the resources and energy of the State of New York on the economy, particularly Upstate.
The Regional Economic Development Councils is the vehicle by which Governor Cuomo is translating that bit of campaign poetry into energetic prose. The concept comes partly from Cuomo’s tenure at HUD, partly from a similar venture launched by the first Governor Cuomo in the late 1980s. The concept has merit—by appointing key leaders to ten councils across NYS, he is engaging the state’s leadership in a manner that is largely unprecedented. With Lt Governor Bob Duffy as the chair of every council, he has assured both that council members participate and that the state agency representatives show up and provide support.
And there is nothing like a contest to get Americans engaged—we love competition! The initiative promises to award $40 million to the four councils submitted the best plans. The remaining six councils will have a $40 million to divide among them, a relatively meager sum when split six ways. Thus if Bob Duffy’s presence wasn’t enough to get regional leaders engaged, the promise of money certainly has done the trick. It isn’t all real money—$25 million is capital money and the remainder is in the form of tax credits, which are certainly worth a lot less than real cash. But $25 million isn’t pocket money.
The process is articulated in a detailed manual that describes the process by which the deliberation of the councils and their designees in various workgroups, structured public input, and council action will create a strategic plan for the region. And there is a schedule—the effort is intended to reach closure by November 14. While this first year timetable is entirely too quick—another four months or so would be desirable—the Cuomo Administration expresses its intent to use the councils to guide funding decisions for its whole term of office. So there will be future years.
The Finger Lakes Council is led by Joel Seligman, President of the University of Rochester, and Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans Markets. The Governor’s press release is here. Leading members of the business community, higher education and the top elected official from each of the nine counties plus municipal leaders fill out the region’s 33 members. Subject workgroups include members of the Council plus other experts—about 150 people overall.
The initiative’s scope is broad, as reflected in the workgroups. Eleven in number, they include Advanced Healthcare & Life Sciences; Advanced Manufacturing; Agriculture & Food Processing; Business Services, Software, & Telecommunications; Community Development; Energy Innovation; Entrepreneurship & Innovation; Higher Education; Infrastructure & Transportation; Optics, Photonics & Imaging; and Tourism & the Arts.
It’s an impressive process that has energized key leaders from across the state. We’ll all be watching to see what emerges!