For all the talk about “collaboration” and “efficiency” surrounding the governor’s new regional economic development councils, what it really boils down to is pumping state money into the economy - one project at a time.
On Monday, more than 150 people from the Finger Lakes region attended a workshop that kept that fact front and center. The workshop focused on the nuts and bolts of how specific projects would win state cash.
A new approach
The tool at the heart of the Cuomo administration’s economic development initiative is called the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA). Here it is.
“This is a real different method of doing business in New York state,” says Bob McNary, executive director of the Finger Lakes council.
McNary says the new application is a one-stop-shop for businesses, non-profits and municipalities who want to tap in to the wide-ranging pool of state money that the councils have some say over. McNary told workshop attendees that over 200 CFAs had already been submitted for the Finger Lakes region alone.
Here’s how the CFA process works: Each project submits an application, which is then ranked against the council’s vision statement and strategic priorities. The strongest CFAs - i.e., the ones that fit best into a region’s strategic plan - get funded.
But the problem is, those priorities aren’t yet final - they’ll be released to the public on November 14. The deadline to submit a CFA, however, is October 31.
“If you’re not going to match your grant or your item with the priorities of the council, then you’re just wasting your time,” says Harvey Botzman. He was at the workshop on behalf of the New York Bicycling Coalition, among other biking nonprofits.
Botzman says he likes the new streamlined approach - with the CFA, projects submit a single application for state money, instead of one for each agency. But without a firm picture of each region’s strategic priorities, Botzman thinks the upcoming deadline is problematic.
In at least one breakout session, other attendees voiced similar concerns.
No rubric needed
“It’s like being back in elementary school or college,” says Deb Najarro, a consultant working for local rail development program.
Najarro says she understands why some people feel like they’re in a class with no syllabus. But she’s not entirely sympathetic. She thinks there’s enough draft material out there to craft an application that’ll get a good grade.
“Let’s face it,” says Najarro, “each of the councils are pretty much going to be focused on the same basic premise: job creation, leveraging private funds and all the other economic development strategies that go along with it.”