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Op-ed column: Realization of Tech Valley dream requires input from inner cities

Op-ed column: Realization of Tech Valley dream requires input from inner cities

With a chip-fab plant coming to Luther Forest, new nanotech programs at the University at Albany and

With a chip-fab plant coming to Luther Forest, new nanotech programs at the University at Albany and other high-tech opportunities pouring into the Capital Region, Tech Valley has become a reality.

On Tuesday, “New Opportunities Forum for Tech Valley” will be held, organized by ARISE, a regionwide coalition of congregations and community groups whose goal is to help the needy while revitalizing our region.

Why another meeting about Tech Valley? Because we still have a way to go to reach the kind of regional unity that will make Tech Valley more than a marketing slogan and a glittering promise of new prosperity. We in ARISE believe Tech Valley can and should become a more unified, more inclusive, and more concrete action plan for growth and opportunity, especially for our distressed neighborhoods.

If we allow existing geographic, demographic and economic disparities to grow, only the well-to-do parts of our region will benefit from new development, while distressed areas and people are left behind. If that happens, Tech Valley will have a weak and limited impact. The region as a whole cannot prosper if urban centers are suffering.

If we take the longer and more inclusive perspective, we can build a region where towns and cities are equally able to revive and thrive. As we have seen with Metroplex and its remarkable impact on downtown Schenectady, focusing resources in places of special need produces dramatic improvements for the whole region. As a region, we should target development and opportunity where the need is greatest and where success will be most transformative. Targeted development means that rural and suburban towns can retain the quieter and less crowded character they value, while denser neighborhoods and business districts in the cities can begin to regain the tax base, the well employed work force, and population they have been losing for decades.

Finding common ground

This coming Tuesday, ARISE and our many partners will try to move in this direction with some very specific and promising policies, all of which can be passed and implemented within a year if we join together as a regional community. The forum is targeted at defining common objectives and bringing stakeholders and community partners into the same room to join forces and begin the work.

There will be four areas that focus resources on areas of poverty and economic distress. ARISE’s metaphor for this united regional action plan is “building pipelines of opportunity.” The emphasis throughout is not handouts or special favors, but strategic planning and work force investments that will benefit the whole.

-- Community Benefits Agreements

A CBA is a formally negotiated and legally binding agreement between the owner or developer of a major building project and a well-organized community coalition.

Developments typically pit scattered opposition from unhappy individuals against a developer or a local government attempting to get something built. A CBA, by contrast, brings together a genuinely and broadly representative community coalition of stakeholders, and clarifies, in writing, a reasonable set of ideas about ways a community can benefit from a proposed project, almost always including jobs in the construction and/or operational phase of the development.

CBAs also help developers in getting public buy-in to their proposal, a clearer and smoother way to generate broad public support as they seek required local government approvals for their plan.

On April 14, ARISE will begin or continue the formation of CBA coalitions in Troy and Schenectady, and will announce the beginnings of negotiations of a CBA in Albany around the building of the convention center there.

-- Regional Transportation Network

One of the most essential ways of shaping growth is called “transportation-oriented development.” That means ensuring that new residential and commercial projects put workers and employers along routes that connect the workforce with jobs, and developing mass transit and other options (beyond the automobile) for making this connection.

We have learned, for instance, that Hudson Valley Community College wants to open a special campus at Luther Forest for training the high-tech work force that will make computer chips there. That is a marvelous proposal, but current mass transit options for a graduate of Schenectady High or North Greenbush or Voorheesville or even Greenfield to reach that campus are virtually nonexistent.

The Capital District Transportation Committee, which channels federal funds to local transportation projects in our region, has identified three priorities in a regional strategy for growth: creating alternatives to the automobile; reinvesting in our urban cores; and building primarily in already-developed areas. Our area’s business and local government leaders have already affirmed their approval of these broad principles, but we need to form a team of local governments and citizens to push for the CDTA funding and the local planning to implement these long-term goals.

-- Re-Entry Jobs and Support

Right now, the state has just reformed its drug laws. That is a laudable change, but without effective re-entry programs, people coming out of incarceration or seeking alternatives to prison will not have a way of reintegrating into society. New York state and our region will need to build capacity, to expand and create a more effective and supportive process for reintegrating people coming out of incarceration and for judges sending drug offenders to programs that provide alternatives to incarceration.

The Rev. Peter Young’s pioneering Altamont Program has shown the way do to this work of aftercare and rehabilitation properly, combining treatment for chemical dependency with housing, training and employment. Done properly, this major shift from prison to treatment can mean strengthened families, greater safety and community development for distressed neighborhoods, and reduced taxes. ARISE will dedicate another work group to focus on getting this done.

-- Green Jobs Pipeline

The federal stimulus bill and related funding has opened possibilities for the creation of green jobs, jobs with the potential to provide great careers, to weatherize low-income homes, to save money on utilities, and lessen greenhouse gases — a rare opportunity to accomplish multiple goals. We need to integrate community-based resources with local and state government resources, or we’ll be danger of losing some of the federal resources.

ARISE will be proposing the creation of a three-part green jobs pipeline, beginning with congregations and community-based groups who know people looking for work. Connecting them with training programs and supporting them while they get trained will be Step Two. And finally, ARISE is exploring the creation of a community-based clearinghouse, where the graduates of all the various training programs can connect with actual contractors doing weatherization and energy efficiency jobs. The Apollo Alliance, a business and labor coalition dedicated to sustainable ecology and green economic development, has agreed to help us follow through.

Achievable steps

These are four tangible, fundable, achievable steps that would represent a major advance for opportunity and sustainable growth. We encourage everyone, and especially people from our inner cities who may never have heard about Tech Valley before now, to come and join forces with businesses, governments, faith and civic institutions as we together shape a more united region working for all.

Michael Weinstein and Deborah Dewey are co-chairmen of the ARISE Regional Renewal Task Force.

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