Lower-tier LI consoled by $68M in 2018 REDC awards

Fund for all: Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul warms them up at the 2018 Regional Economic Development Council awards, held Tuesday in Albany.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

If $68.3 million for workforce development and affordable housing programs is losing, Long Island will take it.

That’s the Island’s haul in the 2018 Regional Economic Development Council competition, announced Tuesday by Empire State Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Howard Zemsky.

Zemsky, also commissioner of the New York State Department of Economic Development, presented all 10 winners of the annual statewide development competition, each representing one of 10 economic-development zones.

Founded in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s yearly contest has its share of critics – some question the governor’s generous spending habits, others decry a “Hunger Games” of socioeconomic development – and after eight rounds there is the subtle whiff of an emperor-like figure tossing coins into a gladiatorial arena.

But they are handsome coins. The 2018 top finisher, the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, hauled in a mighty $88.2 million to support 91 projects, followed by the Mid-Hudson REDC ($87.1 million, 122 projects), the Finger Lakes REDC ($86.5 million, 141 projects), the Mohawk Valley REDC ($85.4 million, 77 projects) and the New York City REDC ($84.4 million, 137 projects).

Kevin Law: A good day to earn $68.3 million.

Even the Long Island REDC’s $68.3 million, targeting 103 distinct projects, makes for a nice Christmas bonus. The Island council’s take was tops among this year’s lower-tier economic zones, ranging down to the North Country REDC’s $64.8 million (70 projects).

But it did not bestow “top performer” status on the LIREDC, and unfortunately, that designation is a pretty good get: This year’s top five finishers are eligible to receive up to $20 million each in additional ESDC funding for “priority projects.”

Judging by the ESDC, Albany’s main economic-development engine, is based on annual reports submitted by each of the 10 regional councils, covering progress made with previous competition awards and proposals for the coming year, all centered around a regional development strategy.

Last year, the LIREDC hauled in $84.3 million, marking the regional council’s fifth “top performer” finish (including 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015) in the competition’s first seven years.

And the LIREDC’s 2018 wish list shot for the moon, seeking $127.8 million in state funding to support hundreds of new and retained jobs and a host of high-profile projects. Among them: new drug-discovery labs for Stony Brook University, multi-user facilities at Broad Hollow Bioscience Park, “strategic” housing initiatives and job-creation investments in several private companies.

Not every project on the wish list earned ESDC funding, but several efforts related to the LIREDC’s core interests – including biotech R&D and affordable housing – did.

Key projects include a new Cybersecurity Innovation and Research Center at Hofstra University, which earned a $200,000 stipend, and a mixed-use development – including commercial and affordable residential space – by Estella Housing and Infrastructure in the Village of Hempstead, which earned $1 million.

A full list of 2018’s statewide funded projects, including Long Island’s 103 development efforts, is available here.

While it fell short of its annual goals, the LIREDC has nothing to hang its head about, according to Long Island Association President Kevin Law, who co-chairs the regional development council with Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz.

“Whenever you go to Albany and come back home with $68.5 million for a bunch of cool projects, it was a good day,” Law told Innovate LI.

Cuomo, meanwhile, shook off critics to trumpet what he sees as “a vision to move New York State’s economy forward by allowing communities to make strategic investments.”

“Regional-based economic development is vital for maintaining New York’s thriving, prosperous economy,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “I congratulate all of the winners of this year’s REDC awards and look forward to working together to build a stronger New York for generations to come.”

After eight rounds, despite a relatively off year, Long Island still stands as one of the best-performing regions in the annual competition. Central New York leads all regions with $703.6 million for 708 projects, followed by Finger Lakes ($656.6 million for 856 projects), Mid-Hudson ($647.8 million for 809 projects) and Long Island ($639.1 million for 791 projects).