BUFFALO NEWS: Cuomo committing $1 billion to development in Buffalo

Mark Grisanti

January 04, 2012

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo today will commit the state to spending $1 billion on a multi-year economic development program designed to attract new industry specifically to the City of Buffalo.

The guarantee will be made in the governor’s second State of the State address this afternoon in a convention center near the Capitol, according to officials with knowledge of the governor’s plans.

The targeted money is in addition to the the $100 million recently awarded through a new state regional economic development council.

This new money would be modeled on the successful nanotechnology industry in Albany. That University at Albany-based program, with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, has attracted a who’s who of major technology companies to the Capitol region.

Cuomo’s planned announcement follows several unanswered questions this morning, including the number of years the money would be spent over and what specific industries the administration might have in mind for Buffalo.

Officials said the expertise of the Buffalo area’s Regional Economic Development Council would be tapped to develop a multi-year program. Cuomo aides said the money is being targeted for the city.

Overall spending for economic development must be approved by state lawmakers, and there would be considerable pressure by suburban legislators to expand the geographic boundaries of the program beyond just the city.

Moreover, the Legislature in 2012 can’t bind future legislative spending, but sources close to the plan say the $1 billion is Cuomo’s commitment to unleash the money to industries interested in expanding to Buffalo.

The idea is to send a “call out to industry around the world that if they come to Buffalo with a competitive package they will be eligible for $1 billion,” a source said.

The administration envisions the state and regional council creating a master plan that uses the $1 billion from an array of government funding pots to leverage at least $5 billion in private money.

There are no immediate plans to specifically target the money to any one industry, officials said. Eligible industries could include biomedical technology, the automobile industry or any other sector that would be able to meet certain, as-yet development job creation guarantees, they said.

The package of money would come from a variety of sources, and could include tax credits, access to low-cost energy, job training and capital grants, infrastructure improvements and funding for real estate investments. The $1 billion also includes an unknown amount of potential federal matching grants.

Officials said some of the money, depending on the uses, could be unilaterally approved by the governor, while others would need legislative authority.

Whether the idea gets changed or not or funding levels rise or dip, the plan puts Cuomo on the political hook for guaranteeing a new level of commitment by the state to one of the nation’s poorest cities.