County seeking to follow WNY growth with state assistance

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series concerning issues discussed by Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, county Industrial Development Agency Director Mike Metzger and Christina P. Orsi Regional Director for Western New York Regional Office of Empire State Development at the OBSERVER, regarding development in Western New York.

The state of New York took a new approach to helping localities with the adoption of a Consolidated Funding Application process to determine where funding would go when Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011.

Empire State Development is the state’s economic development agency with regional offices serving the local governments in their areas. Christina P. Orsi is the regional director of the Western New York Regional Office, which includes Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.

Orsi, along with Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan and Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency Chairman Michael Metzger recently discussed various issues at the OBSERVER. She discussed the new Consolidated Funding Application system, along with the START-UP NY program.

“The key is they all need to tie back to the strategy that the priorities are driven by this locality and the council members in saying these are the ones we’d like to see funded,” Orsi said of the way projects are selected under the CFA.

The START-UP NY program was put in place because Cuomo “recognized that New York has a reputation as a high tax community so he said what better way to take it on than to make it completely tax free?” Orsi explained. “So he established a partnership with our SUNYs. … Here it’s Fredonia and Jamestown.”

So far JCC’s program proposal has been accepted, while SUNY Fredonia’s is under review.

“I think that just gives us another great tool in our tool kit to help companies grow in Chautauqua County and I know both of those campuses have designated places on their campuses,” Orsi stated. “The Incubator will be part of START-UP. … They can include up to 200,000 square feet off campus so if there were vacant facilities off campus that someone wanted to reuse those could be designated as START-UP and give a company the benefits to enable them to grow in one of those facilities.

“I think we’re already starting to see from some of the campuses that plans were accepted a little while ago and are now working with businesses. We’ve certainly already started to see some of the benefits in Buffalo.”

As for the Carriage House property, Horrigan thought it would be eligible.

“What we hear is if we have somebody who meets this criteria and we need the Carriage House facility we think we can get it. We think there’s enough flexibility,” Horrigan added.

Orsi said an application can be amended to add additional off-campus buildings if there is a designated user.

The recent move of the CCIDA’s north county office to the Incubator is a plus, according to Horrigan.

“We are trying to concentrate our efforts all together – START-UP, Incubator, IDA, everybody. … To be able to take economic activity and bring it together … we think this is a great move,” he added. “We’re bringing that together so now the incubators are linked together with the Hot Spots.”

Orsi explained the Hot Spot designation comes with three years of resources.

“It’s a network of incubators in western New York and the money is paid to basically add capacity and programs to help mentor startup companies in those incubators. Fredonia is a part of that network and will have an access and is working right now with the other partners,” she stated. “UB is the lead on the development of the set of programs that they’ll be able to offer, and mentors that they can roll out to the companies.”

Workforce development is another program and Orsi said an example would be a program that JCC ran for machinists, with state money paying tuition fees.

“We recognize that especially for manufacturers they need more of the skills trades workforce to be able to continue their operations,” she added.

Tourism is being helped with five counties in western New York teaming with three in the Finger Lakes region to come up with a regional branding and marketing strategy. Metzger said it wouldn’t replace the branding effort of Chautauqua, but would provide additional resources for the counties to attract tourists.

“Instead of coming for one or two days and doing Niagara Falls or just Buffalo, come for five days and spend a day or two in Chautauqua, a day in Buffalo doing arts and architecture and then visit the falls for a day,” he added.

Orsi said a combination loan-grant program can provide up to $50,000 in grants for capital improvements in farms.

“Basically it’s intended to enable farms to start doing value-added production or access new markets by investing in new equipment, technology, freezers, coolers, if they need them for their produce,” she explained.

Horrigan said additional funding is needed as the CCIDA was “pretty much tapped out in our revolving loan fund.”

“When a company comes, they want to start up, they need equipment, whatever, we have additional funds to loan, and that’s also a priority project,” he added. “It’s going to help us when businesses come to say here we can help you.”

Horrigan said the county is part of the greater Buffalo region.

“We have to look at the opportunities going into that area not as an ‘oh gee, why didn’t we get that,’ but ‘oh gee, how can we connect together’ with the Buffalo-Niagara Enterprise,” he explained. ” … We’re excited about that and I’m very optimistic … moving forward it’s going to pay off.”

Metzger said Chautauqua County fared well in CFA funding.

“We’re getting more than our share, so thanks to Christine and Vince. Previously we weren’t participating,” he explained. “We were sitting down here saying, ‘oh Buffalo is getting it.’

“Well, what did you submit? What projects did you submit? What plans do you have? What opportunities were you presenting? We were sitting back and whining, but under Vince we had the greatest number of applications.

“You’ve got to participate. We’ve got to be part of the solution instead of just sitting here being part of the problem. That’s why, if you look at these programs, they are the premier programs of the whole five-county western New York region, not just Chautauqua County.”

Horrigan added the interest and desire to help starts in Cuomo’s office.

“They understand where we are and they want to see success,” he explained. “So even my counterparts in Niagara County, in Erie County, I expected through this one to say, ‘hey wait a minute.’

“There’s a regional focus, so I was pleased with that.”

Coming Monday: Regional water, waterfront development keys to future.

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