November 15, 2011

Skorton-Led Council Reveals Regional Plan to Stimulate Growth

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The Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, co-chaired by President David Skorton, unveiled on Monday the final version of its strategic plan to stimulate economic growth and generate job creation in the region.

“This blueprint for economic growth employs strategies for attracting businesses, enhancing agriculture and health care, expanding the industrial base and rebuilding our infrastructure,” Skorton said in a press release Monday. “It is the result of input from our community leaders, who came together for the greater good of our region, as well as thousands of local citizens. It is a plan worthy of our region’s support.”

The Southern Tier is one of 10 regional development councils Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) created to find ways to improve New York State’s troubled economy. The council began formulating the proposal in September in response to Cuomo’s challenge to develop regional plans to stimulate economic growth.

Cuomo budgeted $200 million in competitive funding to allocate to the 10 regions for implementation of their plans, according to Monday’s press release. The four councils with the best proposals will each be awarded $40 million to finance priority projects — initiatives indentified as the most critical to economic development. The remaining $40 million in competitive funds will be divided among the other six councils.

“Decisions will be made by December,” said Dean of CALS Kathryn Boor, who is one of 20 formal members of the Southern Tier council. “There are multiple criteria used to evaluate the proposals, but it is really about increasing economic activity in the Southern Tier region and that has, at its heart, creating jobs.”

In addition to the formal council, according to Boor, there were multiple “work groups” that focused on specific parts of the proposal — including many Cornell representatives working on different pieces of the plan.

“We feel we’ve put together a very competitive proposal that cuts broadly across all areas,” Boor said. “We hope we’ll have an impact on the region for decades, and, of course, create jobs.”

The Southern Tier plan focuses on job creation through collaboration between universities and businesses in energy, transportation and agriculture, according the press release. The priority projects in the proposal are estimated to promote the creation of more than 17,000 jobs and to provide more than $7 billion in returns on $140 million in capital investment, the press release stated.

The Southern Tier extends along New York’s Pennsylvania border and includes the cities of Elmira, Corning, Binghamton and Ithaca.

According to Paul Mutolo ’94, director of external partnerships for the energy material center at Cornell, the University will likely benefit from improved cooperation between Cornell and private enterprises if the proposal goes into effect.

“We need to keep communication going with industry partners to make sure we aim our research, so it will have an impact,” Mutolo said.

Mutolo also said the plan will increase research opportunities for undergraduates and graduates and “engage students in projects, either lab research or student teams.”

Mutolo, a member of one of the work groups charged with technology transfer and development, worked on a priority project, the Energy Development Alliance for New York. The EDANY, according to Mutolo, focuses on moving new energy-efficient technologies from laboratories to the marketplace more effectively.

“What’s new about what we proposed is to do more in collaboration with Binghamton University … to support regional companies … bringing products from the laboratory stage to the demonstration stage, where you can put a real working product out into the public,” Mutolo said.

According to the final version of the council’s plan, the EDANY initiative would require a capital investment of $6 million, but would return a projected 200 percent increase in smart energy jobs within five years of implementation.

Kenneth Schlather, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension for Tompkins County, participated in a work group addressing energy issues.

Schlather said that one of his contributions to the proposal was an initiative “designed to dramatically increase the number of residential energy efficiency retrofits in the region.” If the initiative were applied to all eligible homes in the Southern Tier, Schlather stated in an email, it would create more than 4,000 jobs and generate more than $100 million in total annual energy savings for homeowners.

Similar priority provisions in the council’s plan provide for millions of dollars in energy savings on renewable energy efficiency upgrades, according to Monday’s press release.

“The reason we picked energy to focus on is because Cornell and Binghamton have a very strong presence in energy in terms of research and commitment to improving energy infrastructure and the efficiency of our energy systems on campus,” Mutolo said. “Our involvement is supporting President Skorton and his commitment to showing how universities can help economic development nationwide.”

A Strategic Plan Review Committee will review the strategic plan of each of the 10 regions to select the four most likely to stimulate economic growth, according the press release. Boor said winners will be announced in December.

If the Southern Tier is not among the chosen proposals, Boor said the council will need “to prioritize among the parts of the proposal and move forward with the most high priority pieces” to adapt to a smaller grant.

“At this point, we’re all on pins and needles,” Boor said.

Original Author: Rebecca Harris