ALBANY - When the members of the Finger Lakes regional council traveled to the state’s capital city Wednesday to make their pitch for $500 million, even their outfits were on message.
Clad in dark coats or dresses with deep red ties or accents, the officials who make up the Rochester-based panel delivered a 50-minute presentation to state decision-makers who will ultimately help determine whether the region gets a major infusion of state funds as part of a development competition.
Their message — spoken repeatedly during the presentation and symbolized through their clothing — was “unity.”
Led by Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman and University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, they repeatedly stressed that local officials are unified behind their plan, which the panel claims would create 8,200 direct jobs and leverage more than $6 billion in private spending.
“We hope that if we receive this support, this will be a transformative moment for the Finger Lakes regional economic council,” Seligman said. “This is a plan that will touch all nine counties (in the region), with half of the support going outside of Monroe County.”
The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, which comprises Monroe and eight surrounding or nearby counties, is one of seven regions competing for three $500 million awards from the state to be awarded in December.
The prizes are part of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, a $1.5 billion development competition some critics have likened to an upstate “Hunger Games.” The competition was created earlier this year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers earlier this year in attempt to kick-start the long-struggling upstate economy.
The four losing regions — along with the Buffalo area, New York City and Long Island, which are ineligible for the top prizes — will divvy up $750 million in state grants and tax breaks that are available through the state’s traditional regional-council competition.
The Finger Lakes is banking on its 142-page plan to get one of the $500 million awards, singling out its optics and photonics, agriculture and manufacturing industries as areas it hopes to grow. The council presented Wednesday to a panel of Cuomo administration officials and state lawmakers who will help decide which regions win.
Overall, the council’s plan recommends putting $50 million toward the optics, photonics and imaging industries in the area, $75 million toward agriculture and $125 million toward what the panel calls “Next Generation Manufacturing and Technology,” which would include investments in Rochester staples like the Sibley Building and Eastman Business Park.
The remaining half of the $500 million prize would go to workforce development, boosting entrepreneurship and higher education and research.
“It’s really accentuating the advantages and strengths of our region, and they’re supported by real people, real documents,” said Wegman, who focused part of his presentation on the opportunity to grow more organic, locally based foods — items he said are popular in his stores.
More than half of the 30-plus members of the Finger Lakes council made the trip to Albany for the presentation, which was led by Wegman, Seligman, Monroe Community College Anne Kress and Greater Rochester Enterprise President and CEO Mark Peterson.
Seligman said he doesn’t believe the Rochester area’s recent win in a national photonics competition would hurt its chances to win more public funding.
The federal government awarded a $600 million photonics center to Rochester earlier this year, which included more than $100 million in federal funding and $200 million in state funding.
“We think this is a very strong plan, and it builds upon the strengths of the region and our accelerating progress,” Seligman said. “We think it’s an honest plan. We have tremendous challenges in Rochester, Monroe County and indeed all nine counties of the Finger Lakes.”
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