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Upstate Revitalization Initiative: Now What?

Veronica Volk

Leaders of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council are celebrating a big win: The region is being awarded $500 million through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

It's been almost a year since Governor Cuomo announced the initiative, then known as the Upstate Economic Revitalization Competition. In that time, the REDC has held public meetings, organized work groups, and drafted numerous proposals to secure the state dollars.

Joel Seligman is Co-chair of the Finger Lakes REDC. He says their proposal focused on how to leverage the state subsidies to acquire private investment, which is one of the reasons he thinks they were successful.

Co-chair Danny Wegman says they're excited about the opportunity.

"What this does is enables us to plan out over a five year period. The other awards were only over a single year. They've guaranteed us a hundred million dollars a year for the next five years, and that's great for planning."

So, what is that plan, exactly?

First, there is a list of specific projects identified by the REDC. These projects will serve as a guideline for how the first $120 million will be spent. Some of these projects could take up to a year or more to secure final funding, after they go through the required contracting process.

In the meantime, the REDC is still going to be accepting applications, called Consolidated Funding Applications, for future projects to be funded with this money.

Mark Peterson is the President of Greater Rochester Empire. He says companies that feel they have a project that meets the criteria of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative are invited to apply for funding any time.

"It's important to recognize the criteria will be very strict, it's about leverage of private dollars, it's about proving that you have that leverage, that you have that company, that you have job creation opportunities. If you have that stuff, there is a pool of money that they can tap into, and we can go right now."

The proposal names three key industry clusters that the council identified as poised for growth and job creation. These are Optics and Photonics, Agriculture and Food, and Advanced Manufacturing. The REDC will be looking to fund businesses that fall in these categories with this pool of URI money in the future, and will also be looking to leverage state dollars to encourage private investment in these sectors.

There are aspects of this economic initiative that are still unknown, for example, how and when the money will be dispersed, as well as how future projects will be funded, but Seligman says the next step is meeting with state leaders to iron out these details.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.