Making a rare appearance in Schenectady, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday touted the Capital Region’s revitalization.
Cuomo and Julian Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, delivered keynote speeches during Tuesday’s Capital Region Sustainability Conference. They discussed their experiences leading HUD, and ways the region has bounced back since its economic downturn nearly a decade ago.
The event took place at Proctors and was one of a string of conferences organized by the governor throughout the state to promote sustainable economic development. Others have taken place in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Long Island, among other locations.
“You can feel it; the optimism is back,” Cuomo told spectators, most of whom were local officials. “I believe in you, and you’ve made great progress already. The energy is turning.”
The keynote addresses were followed by panel discussions focused on infrastructure and economic and community development.
Cuomo did not take questions from reporters at Tuesday’s event, which came a week after multiple former aides to the governor were indicted as part of a federal corruption case.
The governor doesn’t often visit Schenectady. He spoke at Proctors in December of 2014, after the city was recommended as a casino site.
Upstate New York, Cuomo said, fell on hard times because it was a manufacturing economy. The region faced struggles similar to those in the Midwest or Western Pennsylvania and didn’t have a new economy to transition to, he said.
That issue was compounded by state lawmakers who neglected upstate, Cuomo said.
The state has worked to provide opportunities for communities to turn things around, said Cuomo, pointing to programs like his Regional Economic Development Councils, which were created in 2011.
It’s ultimately up to the region to take advantage of available resources, he said, using an art metaphor to illustrate his point.
“We give you the palette with all the colors, but you have the brush. You have the canvas, which is the community,” he said. “You have to take those colors and you have to paint a picture of economic opportunity, personal growth and economic growth that is sustainable for the community.”
Prior to ceding the stage, Cuomo reminisced about his time leading HUD, which he called one of the toughest jobs in the federal government. He added that HUD is a lightning rod for discussion about its mission.
“It says we can help poor people and help revitalize poor places; that is the statement HUD makes by its existence,” Cuomo said. “So it drives conservatives crazy. It is antithetical to the purest conservative belief.”
Cuomo, who served as HUD secretary from 1997-2001, was joined Tuesday morning by Castro, who was making his first stop in Schenectady.
Castro was the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, before being appointed HUD Secretary in 2014. He got some buzz earlier this year as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton, before she selected Sen. Tim Kaine for that role.
Castro mentioned the ongoing partnership between his department and Schenectady, which is taking part in a two-year HUD-sponsored community needs assessment that will help prioritize the city’s needs and how it can allocate funds. A draft of the action plan is expected by the end of the year.
He noted strides made under the Obama administration, including the creation of affordable housing, a reduction in unemployment and the reduction in homelessness among veterans, a cause in which New York has been a leader, Castro said.
He pointed to his experience as mayor of San Antonio and said he’s familiar with some of the barriers that can impede progress and the establishment of a better quality of life in a community.
“You have all the ingredients for success,” Castro said, highlighting the area’s workforce and municipal leadership. “All of that adds up to tremendous potential in the Capital Region.”
The conference continued through the afternoon with four panels focused on economic development and sustainability. One discussion dealt with linking infrastructure to community development
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan were among the panelists who spoke about the importance of collaboration in successfully developing a neighborhood.
For example, McCarthy said a pedestrian walking down State Street 10 years ago wouldn’t need to look both ways since it was fairly desolate. It took a coordinated effort to turn that corridor into the hub of activity it has become, he said.
When the topic of ride-sharing was broached, Sheehan was adamant that the Capital Region needs to implement services like Uber or Lyft in order to survive economically. She said it’s a necessary transportation alternative, adding that people get off planes in Albany and can’t believe they can’t hail a ride.
Carm Basile, CEO of the Capital District Transportation Authority, said the CDTA doesn’t view ride-sharing services as competition, but as an additional option for residents who need to get somewhere public transportation can’t take them.
“We need more choices in the Capital Region,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, [email protected] or @Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.