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Spa County working on the 'vision' thing

Friday, October 12, 2012
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There are places in our great region where government entities that ought to be friendly treat each other like opposing rugby teams, just because they have different visions.

I don’t think of Saratoga County as one of them.

But does the county nevertheless need someone supervising its efforts to attract more companies and jobs, efforts that can involve a half-dozen different private and public agencies and frustrate even the most patient of business types?

That’s the question being posed by the Board of Supervisors’ Economic Development Committee in a letter that’s being circulated among county leaders.

“I believe the selling point is to streamline the process and work as a team to attract jobs and opportunities to Saratoga County,” committee Chairwoman Anita M. Daly wrote in the letter.

As elsewhere, in Saratoga County there’s an alphabet soup of agencies involved in economic development, each with its niche.

The county Industrial Development Agency, the new Capital Resource Corp., the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., the county Planning Department, several chambers of commerce and a tourism promotion agency all have roles to play, Daly said, but there isn’t enough overall cooperation. (To say nothing of the town, city and village leaders who might want a say in what happens in their own communities, and maybe in their neighbor’s.)

“We have a lot of great partners, but I’m not sure they all share the same vision,” Waterford Supervisor Jack Lawler said at a recent Economic Development Committee meeting.

Some think the county’s goal is to encourage more high-tech businesses, building on the magnet of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta. Others want to emphasize keeping large parts of the county agricultural, with all the quality-of-life benefits that come from access to fields and forests and locally grown food. Tourism is and will remain big business, regardless of who runs Saratoga Race Course, and having businesses that appeal to visitors is vital.

People hold to their visions with various degrees of stubbornness. So maybe sometimes the horses are pulling in different directions. I’ve seen it myself.

“I just feel we have an uncoordinated effort, despite everyone’s good intentions,” Lawler said.

In her letter, Daly says county supervisors may need to set out a clearer vision for the economic development agencies to follow.

Easier said than done, though — people’s visions are always going to conflict, and attracting game-changing projects requires playing nice with state leaders who can have pretty sharp elbows in the vision-claiming department.

SUSTAINABILITY PLANS

At the fulcrum of the seesaw between local and state governments, regional plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the environment are in the works.

Competition has become the hallmark of how Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration hands out money to local governments, and the regional sustainability plans will put the state’s 10 economic development councils in a cage to fight for $90 million available over the next three years, to be used for local energy efficiency and environmental benefit projects.

There’s a neighbor-against-neighbor aspect to the competition: Albany, Saratoga and Schenectady counties are part of

the Capital Region council; Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties are part of the Mohawk Valley regional council.

Each region got $1 million earlier this year to develop its sustainability plan; the plans are due in February.

We’ll see where things go from there.

The $90 million — in increments of $30 million a year — is coming from New York’s share of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The RGGI is a nine-state effort that collects money by having power plant operators buy the right to discharge greenhouse gases.

The money collected goes into projects that help reduce greenhouse gases or provide other environmental benefits, like increased energy efficiency or open space protection.

 
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