Regional job creation and a system to measure it when applying for state funds dominated the third Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council meeting Friday.
Business, education and economic development leaders of the regional council voiced concerns that 10 new jobs in the rural, six-county region is as significant as 50 or 100 in more metropolitan areas.
“This region has an awful lot of small, small businesses,” said council member Mary Morse, owner of Kwit Kut Manufacturing in the town of Mohawk. “You may even see a municipal project that’s a good project that will have an impact on a community, and it may only have two employees. I just think that creating or retaining any jobs is worth something.”
The lengthy discussion Friday morning at Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES culminated in the council approving new criteria for priority projects that demonstrate the greatest potential for job growth in the region.
The 30-member council also adopted endorsement standards, which will serve as a guideline for the review and ranking of future Consolidated Funding Applications. State officials designed the applications to streamline and expedite the state assistance process when regions attempt to access up to $1 billion in economic development funding from nine state agencies.
Since the announcement of the state’s 10 regional economic development councils, area leaders have met in workgroup sessions to develop a five-year strategic plan that offers a regional vision for economic development. But the region represented by the council — Schoharie, Montgomery, Fulton, Otsego, Oneida and Herkimer counties — has been hit hard with damage by tropical storms Irene and Lee. And as cleanup continues, residents and leaders have wondered whether the fast pace with which leaders are vying for a $40 million pot is just an additional strain.
“I do acknowledge there are time constraints, especially exacerbated by extreme weather and tragedies we’ve seen,” said Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, “but the Mohawk Valley group is performing extraordinarily well. They have done a great job, and the discussion I heard today mirrors what I’ve heard around the state.”
As each council competes for $40 million in state funds, the tone voiced by selected Mohawk Valley leaders is pleading and urgent. The area has seen a decline in manufacturing, population and general level of education over the years.
The region needs help, and has for a while.
Duffy and regional Co-Chair Bjong Wolf Yeigh agree that the best way for the Mohawk Valley council to secure that $40 million is for the public to participate in the process.
“Come to the meetings, join the council members in weighing in with their input, their energy, their suggestions,” Duffy said, “because the Mohawk Valley does not take a back seat to anyone else around the state.”
Another concern cited by those in attendance was uncertainty over individual county goals when trying to develop an overall strategic plan. Council members in Fulton County, for example, understand what have long been their own goals, but are hazy as to what Otsego County leaders want to see in their communities.
Duffy stressed that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is keen on planning and decision-making coming from the regional level.
“In the past, counties competed against each other for a pot of money,” he said. “What this is doing is bringing the counties together as a region. I think in the long run, if we do our jobs collectively and the co-chairs in each region do their jobs the way I think they’re doing them, over time I think there will be a sense of equity among counties.”
Members at Thursday’s council meeting wrapped up their session by sorting out any last minute obstacles to guidelines and scoring of the funding applications, which are due Oct. 31. In the meantime, council members are looking for feedback from their own communities and across each other’s communities.
The Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council will hold three public forums across the counties, beginning next week, to gauge community input on job creation and economic opportunity. Amsterdsam High School will host one of those forums from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 28.
“The one part people often lose sight of is, look around at who’s at the table at this council,” Duffy said of the diverse group. “Region by region, my sense is they all know each other, but I doubt that this group has ever collectively worked as a team before as this council is doing here today.”
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Categories: Schenectady County