Public money to attract private investment

January 20, 2012 Updated Jan 20, 2012 at 7:43 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First by James Fink, Buffalo Business First Reporter

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January 20, 2012 Updated Jan 20, 2012 at 7:43 AM EDT

The $1 billion economic development allocation being made available to the Buffalo Niagara region from Albany is designed for one primary purpose - encouraging more private-sector investment.

That was one of the key overriding themes during a Jan. 19 Business First Power Breakfast whose panelists included Empire State Development President Kenneth Adams, Buffalo Niagara Partnership President and CEO Andrew Rudnick, developer Howard Zemsky and Jennifer Parker, president and founder of the Black Capital Network.

The $1 billion was announced earlier this month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a specific economic development boost to a region that for years has been hard hit by a weakened economy.

"This is to encourage private-sector investment - for companies to grow or retain workers," Zemsky said. "This is not an infrastructure program. This is not a Bills lease program."

Zemsky, as co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Council, has held several meetings with Cuomo and Adams about the allocation and its intended use.

Cuomo hopes to see the investment have a 5-to-1 return, meaning that the $1 billion could result in $5 billion in new private-sector jobs coming into the region, Adams said.

"Roofs on schools will not get funded through this," he said. "It is for something much bigger and much more significant. We want deals that will be transformational."

The investment is seen as a long-term process. A five-year window has been created by Cuomo.

"It isn't going to happen today," Adams said. "It's not going to happen over night."

"Nobody is going to make a $100 million investment on a whim," Zemsky added.

Rudnick said while the money is key, so are regulatory and perceptional reforms that will send a new message about Western New York and New York state being more business friendly.

"We need a delivery system that has to customer-friendly and developer savvy," Rudnick said.

Parker agreed.

The Buffalo businesswoman said she is impressed with the various initiatives Cuomo has started to change the state's perception in key private sector circles.

"There is no one shot," she said. "Everyone has to be strategic."

Attracting business to the region has been a challenge but perhaps this bit of new research on Buffalo from the Brookings Institution might help.

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