BOLTON LANDING — Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday she will continue the competitive grant programs that have sent billions of state economic development dollars to communities, and even seek to expand them.
Their competitive nature has been criticized but Hochul told the annual meeting of The Business Council of New York State that they produce results.
“My priorities will be continuing the economic development initiatives that have been so successful — the Downtown Revitalization, the Regional Economic Development Councils,” she said. “I’ve seen the transformation of downtowns that have been given up for lost. I believe in these programs and I wanted to actually increase money for those programs in particular.”
Hochul also wants to increase funding for workforce development, and said other priorities are investment in daycare, education and healthcare.
All are part of a vibrant economy and business community, she explained: Companies need qualified job applicants and working mothers need options for childcare.
The Downtown Revitalization Initiative and the Regional Economic Development Councils are two of the largest ways the state assists business projects and the public infrastructure that supports them.
They were suspended in 2020, amid the financial constraints and disruptions of the COVID pandemic, but they’re back in 2021. As lieutenant governor Hochul was chair for nearly seven years of the REDC program, which divides the state into 10 economic development zones, each with its own council judging funding applications.
In the most recent annual REDC round, the Capital Region received $84.1 million in grant commitments.
Meanwhile, in the first four rounds of the DRI program, Albany, Amsterdam, Glens Falls, Hudson and Schenectady each have received the $10 million award. In the 2021 edition, one city in each region will receive $20 million or two will receive $10 million each.
Hochul added that while she likes the current REDC model, she is not wedded to it.
“I want to hear from the business community,” she said, about what works, or doesn’t work, or could work better.
The 2021 annual meeting of the Business Council was set against the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic.
The infection rate in New York has declined significantly and the economic shutdown ended more than a year ago, but business is not back to normal.
Many people are still working remotely, parts and finished goods can be expensive or hard to find, and some people have simply dropped out of the labor force.
Hochul acknowledged the continuing challenges but struck a pep rally tone in her remarks.
“You’re going to be part of an explosive growth into the future,” she told her audience, many of them business leaders. “I’ve never felt more optimistic about the state of New York than I do right here, right now.”
She said her COVID vaccine mandates, which could force thousands of people out of work as soon as Monday and potentially limit medical care in the state, are a necessary step to protect the state economy from another severe wave of the pandemic.
“I do not ever want to pull the plug on this economy under my watch,” she said. “We can fight that dynamic, which is happening in other parts of the world.”
Hochul’s other messages for the business community included:
- The state will continue its efforts to modernize its airports
- The proposed federal infrastructure spending package, if passed, will be hugely beneficial to New York.
- Business leaders should partner with academic leaders to better shape education programs to produce the workers their industries need.
- She’s put in motion the process to create legal frameworks for the recreational marijuana and sports betting industry, which were approved by the state Legislature but were not moving forward under the Cuomo administration.
- Her administration has begun disbursing federal rental assistance to landlords, another initiative that made little progress in the final, embattled months of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tenure.
- Asked by Business Council President Heather Briccetti whether the Buffalo Bills would be staying in the Buffalo area — the owners have hinted at a departure if they don’t get assistance paying for a $1.5 billion new stadium — Hochul didn’t hesitate: “They sure as hell are.”