The Rockland Business Association hosted an informational meeting on New York’s Economic Development Program last Thursday at Rockland Community College. On the agenda was how Rockland could capture more grant dollars by learning how to navigate the new Consolidated Funding Application.
Included among the attendees were municipal employees, members of local government and representatives of not-for-profit organizations. RCC President Cliff Wood framed the discussion by noting, “We want to stimulate economic development and job growth in Rockland County. We need more jobs so our young people can stay in the county.”
He added that it was necessary to leverage the current resources to be successful. RBA President Al Samuels told the audience the bad news that out of $67 million in grants to the Hudson Valley region Rockland received only $1.1 million, the smallest amount of any county, and none went to private developers.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has initiated regional economic development councils across New York State, infusing $785 million into projects this year alone. That’s over $10 million per county, on average, yet Rockland projects walked away with about 10 percent of the average amount.
Amy Vargas, the executive director for the Hudson Valley Region of the Empire State Development Corporation explained some of the basics of the revised process for receiving grants. As the representative of an organization that provides grants for economic development, she explained that the initial meeting under the new system was in August, 2011 and that there are 10 regions and seven counties in the ESD coverage area.
She added, “There are 15 strategies in the Regional Economic Development Plan with September 1, 2012 as the deadline for Consolidated Funding Applications. The CFA provides one site on-line for all funding opportunities encompassing 29 different programs.”
Also, according to Vargas, there will be a second round of funding that should be launched by the summer after the initial $67 million that was offered in December of 2011.
Jonathan Drapkin of PATTERN, a Poughkeepsie-based non-profit research group that is intimately involved with the Hudson Valley economy noted, “These are modifications to how things had been traditionally done. We would like to avoid grant shopping going on in all seven counties. The goal is for Rockland to have the best applications that the county can have.”
He outlined specific standards that successful grant applications must meet including:
Consider the Hudson Valley in its totality
Further the cause of the entire region
Diagram a five year strategy
Be involved in industries that create jobs with higher wages that allow people to live in the Hudson Valley
Drapkin concluded, “The counties must recognize each other’s needs in the region and where to find growth opportunities.”
During the question and answer session, Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack spoke forcefully on behalf of the municipalities and their frustration that the majority of funds seem to go to incubator and high tech projects. “We are the ones who create jobs in our communities. The towns and villages control the zoning. We have spent $20 million in development on Main Street and put hundreds if not thousands of people to work. These projects have created construction jobs. The towns are doing their part to create permanent jobs and are ready and willing to partner on projects. Don’t shortchange the towns.”
After Supervisor Gromack’s comments, Vargas responded that, “There is a learning curve to this new process and it is important to learn the programs. There are housing programs, but some housing programs just don’t work inside the Consolidated Funding Application. And we are looking for the jobs that are created to be full time permanent jobs.”
Vargas concluded by noting, “We are not the first investors in any project. We fill the gaps and 80 percent of the total investment does come from Empire State Development. We need to determine the viability of the project and the funding sources. Construction jobs are important but we want to create fulltime permanent jobs.”