Through his vision and leadership, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has offered to the communities of New York a major opportunity with the potential for large rewards: the chance to set our own economic agendas, regionally, with the 10 Regional Economic Councils, and initially, a piece of the $200 million in state funding that goes along with them.
The program is called New York Open For Business, with the goal of developing the economy in and sustainability of the communities that make up New York state and increasing the number of businesses and jobs locating here.
The councils are a major way that the governor's administration is working to redesign the way state government operates to drive economic growth and create jobs. We completely agree with Gov. Cuomo's central reasoning behind creating the regional councils: "No one knows their regions better than the people who live there."
The program represents a major opportunity for us, and requires Adirondack population and leadership to work together toward common goals - even as the counties of the Adirondack Park are separated into three regional councils.
It's time to focus on developing sustainable communities before there are no more communities in the Adirondacks. Without vibrant communities, there will be no services: gas, food, tourist information and lodging. Without services, tourists who currently enjoy the assets of the Adirondacks can't or don't want to come. It spirals downward from there.
The 12-county region of the Adirondack Park - including the 129,000 full-time residents, business owners and schoolchildren - has been hurting economically for many years. The Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project report released in 2009 - with information updated recently to include the latest census numbers - found that the residents of the Adirondacks are older and poorer than their fellow residents in New York state. The APRAP also confirmed that younger people and families are leaving the region at high rates to find jobs outside the Blue Line.
The mandate for the Economic Councils is simple and yet so incredibly hard: Develop a strategic plan to emphasize the region's strengths and unique assets in a way that creates growth and jobs.
And there lies the concern for the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board.
As great an advancement as the establishment of the Regional Economic Councils is, there is that one troubling aspect: The counties that make up the Adirondack Park are split among three different councils.
Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties are in the Capital Region Council. Fulton, Herkimer and Oneida counties are in the Mohawk Valley Council.
Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Lewis and St. Lawrence are in the North Country Council.
Ultimately, that means economic development throughout the Adirondacks - hamlets and towns with similar concerns, similar restrictions and similar regulations - will be divided among three separate plans with three separate goals using three separate strategies.
Yet even with the time-shortened task of trying to create the strategic plans quickly, the Mohawk Valley and Capital Region councils have made a cooperative effort and asked for input from the Review Board and other organizations from Adirondack counties. Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber - a member of the North Country Council - has done a tremendous job bridging the gap that could have opened between the councils.
But their work and our work is not done. For the initial funding (totaling $200 million), the councils will identify projects or areas where allocations from the state could be made. A competition of sorts will be held, and the four regions with the top strategies will each win $40 million to go toward implementing those plans. The other six will divide the remaining $40 million.
In the future, all requests for economic development funding will go through the councils and be decided by the councils.
For the sake of the Adirondacks, we ask that you invest in your future and be part of the discussions - and publicly request that the three councils work together for the benefit of the whole Adirondacks. Coordination of project planning and execution between the three councils and among each other is key for getting projects that will be beneficial for the whole region.
The rest of the state funding - a total of $800 million - is tied to applications that were to be submitted by Nov. 1. Those projects will be reviewed by the councils based on a scoring system that rates how closely the projects meet the strategies set out by the councils.
The groundwork has already been laid for cooperation and Adirondacks-wide implementation of economic development. Farber and the Adirondack Partnership are seeking funding to implement an Adirondack Economic Development Strategy that is being created with input from many of the 103 towns and villages inside the Blue Line, as well as environmental advocacy groups. We wholeheartedly support this effort and would advise the councils to use that plan as a guide for the types of projects that are needed in the Adirondacks.
We have so many needs throughout the Adirondacks - infrastructure, broadband, small business development - that it benefits us all to work together. We understand that sustainable communities and conservation of the environment are not mutually exclusive goals. Most of the residents of the Adirondacks feel the same way. A coordinated focus from the councils - and between the three councils that divide the Adirondacks - is absolutely required in order for the region inside the Blue Line to begin to reverse the economic decline and develop sustainable communities for the future.
Frederick H. Monroe is executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. He lives in Chestertown.