A lot of people see Plattsburgh’s Strand Theater and the Bombardier plant as symbols of a revitalized city. They represent a region with a vibrant arts scene and a growing manufacturing sector – a perfect place for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to tout the benefits of the economic development councils he created last year.
"Suffice this to say in the second year, it is working. It is happening," the governor said. "There is an energy in the North Country that is new, that is different that is growing, that is developing a moment, people believe, you can feel it!"
At both the theater and the Bombardier rail car assembly plant, employees lined up eagerly to meet the governor.
Mitchell Graham and Kevin Bushey are standing in front of a giant towering silver train car in the Bombardier plant, wearing jeans and t-shirts. Graham still has his safety glasses on.
"We waitin' (sic.) for the governor to come so we can talk to him say hello and stuff like that," said Graham.
"It’s nice to see him here in the building, looking at what we do, what we create, what we do," added Bushey.
Bushey says that at Bombardier, people are excited about the company’s expansion plans.
"They know that work is here, work is coming, contracts are coming, and that there will be work here for many years to come. It’s a huge deal for Plattsburgh – this is big for this company. We need this, we really do," he said.
Bombardier was awarded $2.5 million from the Regional Economic Development Council last year. That money has become part of a $25 million planned expansion that Bombardier says will create 100 new jobs at the Plattsburgh facility.
So that sounds like a success story, but it’s a little unclear just how the grant is connected to the company’s expansion.
Robert Furniss, vice president for Bombardier sales in the US, says the plant would likely have expanded even without state funds.
"Primarily the market drives that. We will be investing on a continual basis over the years," Furniss explains. "The expansion was long planned but the alliance with the regional council and the economic policies of the state of New York have been a crucial element in enabling us to proceed and go forward."
Some critics of the regional councils go even further, describing the grants as a kind of corporate pork.
“I believe it’s nothing more than a duplication of the Obama Administration’s failed stimulus plan," said Conservative 115th Assembly district candidate Karen Bisso. At an election debate, broadcast on Mountain Lake PBS on Monday, Bisso (whose district would include Plattsburgh) slammed the governor for funding infrastructure upgrades at the Bombardier plant.
She said the Canadian-headquartered corporation should have paid for the expansion using its own funds.
"When we give $2.5 to a company that made $9.7 billion last year and in the first 6 months of 2012 brought $4.7 billion and has on hand last $176 million and over the last 2.5 years $1.73 billion and we give them $2.5 million I really think that that’s an injustice," Bisso said.
While touring the Plattsburgh facility, Governor Cuomo - a Democrat - dismissed criticism of the council grants.
"You know what, sometimes you don’t even bother responding, that’s how I respond. So I have no idea what that comment is about," the governor said.
He says the grants will help revitalize North Country economies. In that same debate on Monday, Republican Assemblywoman Janet Duprey said local control of projects will mean better outcomes for the region.
"Many of the grants over the years that have gone down to Albany and New York, they’re decided by bureaucrats who don’t know the North Country. I think that having the local volunteers evaluating these grant proposals and making these decisions has been without a shadow of a doubt an economic benefit for the North Country and will continue to be so," said Duprey.
Yesterday, after the governor’s visit, the regional council met again to talk about how projects that received funding are performing, and about new projects that might benefit from state grants.
Local leaders of the group hope to score well again this year, winning tens of millions of dollars in the program, competing for funds against nine other regional councils in the state.
The Governor is in Kingston, New York today for a similar visit.