It’s a “sprint to the finish” for the Capital Region Economic Development Council, as it races toward the Nov. 14 due date for its long-term economic plan.
The council met Thursday in the Saratoga Springs City Center, where members continued to develop their proposal to compete with the nine other councils for $200 million in funds and tax incentives from the state. The emphasis was on collaboration and maximizing the region’s assets. The mood was optimistic about this approach to economic development.
The council also received input from the public.
Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said the public input shapes the themes they’re advancing, whether that means reaffirming their direction or highlighting ideas that hadn’t been addressed. She noted that smart infrastructure had been brought up by the public, which she found encouraging because it is an area they’ve already set their sights on.
With about four weeks until the report is due, she said they’re beginning to write the rough draft and are “tweaking ideas.” Jackson, who called the remaining days a sprint, said she expects a draft by the next public meeting, Nov. 3. “I think we’re poised pretty well,” she said.
The council’s meeting also touched on the issue of shared procurement among municipalities. Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy suggested that the procurement laws could be revised in the coming years and argued that the resulting savings could be in the millions. “Something as simple as rock salt,” he said, could be bought at lower cost with the shared buying power of multiple local governments.
“This council can put your suggestions together specifically in terms of legislative areas,” Duffy said. “I think that is something that the governor and the Legislature would love to look at.”
This was encouraging news to city of Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, who called it the “most exciting” information from the meeting. “We have to be more efficient,” she said, including school districts. “We can barely make the 2 percent property tax cap and in the future it is only going to get harder.”
Echoing comments from the meeting, Yepsen said she was particularly struck by how cooperatively people were working on this highly competitive project. She added that the collaboration should continue into the future and said the Center for Economic Growth has been holding monthly luncheons for local leaders that could serve as extensions of the council.
One of the future considerations is how the council wants to assess the efficiency of programs targeted for investment. The new standards that were introduced Thursday were: cost per job created; whether a job was permanent or temporary; and how much private money was leveraged through public investment.
Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Colonie, said it is important that the council not fall into the “doldrums” and lapse from vigilant oversight. “This is the easy part,” he said of formulating a plan. The five years of implementing the strategic plan, he said, is “the trying part.”
He was also happy that the council brought up the importance of utilizing the region’s elementary and secondary school administrators for advice on developing a better work force. Before this meeting, Reilly was worried that this resource was not being tapped and said so to co-chair Michael Castellana, president and CEO of SEFCU.
Regarding the push to limit the barriers and burdens on businesses, Reilly didn’t quite agree with the idea that the council should be submitting recommendations to the governor. He said the change had to start from the top, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo leading an attitude adjustment. “First thing you have to attack, I believe, is the mind-set of the bureaucrats,” he said.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson said he found the meeting to be very informative about the process, which the city plans on getting involved in with a proposal regarding the Woodlawn parking deck. He said the city is currently writing a bid request for roughly $2 million in work on a third level on the parking deck. Johnson felt it fit in nicely with the goals of the council.
The council also praised the amount of public engagement to date, with 1,215 people completing their online survey and more than 410 people attending the four public forums the council held before Thursday.
The council covers Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties, with a combined population of over 1 million.
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