LIREDC can’t win ’em all, but finds solace in $62M

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: Money man.

While $62 million is nothing to sneeze at, it’s fair to say the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council was hoping for more.

The LIREDC – a four-time “Top Performer” in Empire State Development’s annual funding contest, which marked the completion of its sixth round Thursday with an Albany awards ceremony – had submitted an ambitious agenda filled with 112 projects covering biotechnology, synthetics manufacturing, aerospace and half-a-dozen other key industries, all hoping for a slice of the ESD’s $700 million-plus funding pie.

But the LIREDC’s haul placed it in the lower echelons of this year’s awardees, tied with the Western New York REDC for third-lowest on the 2016 list. Other “Regional Council Awardees” included the Southern Tier ($60.4 million), North Country ($61.4 million) and Central New York ($62.2 million) REDCs.

Kevin Law: Half-a-billion, and counting, for the Long Island region.

Though a far cry from the $98.3 million the LIREDC earned in the 2015 competition – one of four years the Island council earned “Top Performer” status, following high honors in 2011, 2013 and 2014 – the $62 million will still go a long way toward fortifying the Long Island regional economy, according to LIREDC Co-chairman Kevin Law.

“While we may not have won a top prize this year, we are still bringing back $62 million to our region for some very important economic-development projects,” noted Law, who co-chairs the LIREDC with Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz.

“And the total amount over six rounds is half-a-billion dollars for our region,” Law, also president and CEO of the Long Island Association, told Innovate LI. “That is worth celebrating.”

“Top Performers” in the 2016 competition included the Finger Lakes ($80.5 million), Mohawk Valley ($81.9 million) and Capital Region ($83.1 million) councils. The top “Top Performer” was the Mid-Hudson REDC, which scored $83.3 million in ESD funding.

During Thursday’s awards ceremony at Albany’s Egg Center for the Performing Arts, the final “Top Performer” slot came down to the final two regional councils in the 2016 competition: the New York City and Long Island REDCs. The NYC council landed $80.2 million to earn the final top spot.

The 2016 award will be divided among 101 projects in Nassau and Suffolk. Some involve construction of buildings, while others involve training workers or developing products.

The largest award, $2.3 million, will go to restore fish and wildlife habitat along Mud Creek in East Patchogue, the site of a former duck farm now owned by Suffolk County.

The Wyandanch Rising project will receive $1.4 million for another mixed-use building, and a new Long Island Rail Road station.

Three projects are set to receive $1 million. They include pedestrian bridges connecting the Nassau Hub project to Hofstra University, Nassau Community College and RXR Plaza; a grant to Luminati Aerospace, the manufacturer of unmanned airplanes at Calverton; and a laboratory and factory at Farmingdale State College for Modern Meadow, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer that’s bringing plant-based leather to market.

To date, more than 4,300 individual projects have been funded through the REDC competition, focusing primarily on regional initiatives like drone-development and, in Long Island’s case, biotechnology. The awards have “leveraged billions” in public-private partnerships, according to ESD President and CEO Howard Zemsky, who joined Cuomo and other state leaders on stage for Thursday’s awards ceremony.

Howard Zemsky: Cuomo gets it.

Zemsky championed the REDC competition as part of the governor’s “comprehensive economic development approach,” noting Cuomo “really gets it and is making things happen in every corner of the state.”

“I don’t think in my lifetime I could have imagined the kind of change we’re seeing in Western New York and Upstate New York and, really, throughout the state,” Zemsky told the audience.

Zemsky was followed at the podium by Cuomo, who interrupted several rounds of applause long enough to give credit for the REDC program to ESD personnel and regional council leaders.

“You made the implementation a reality,” the governor said, noting before the annual awards program kicked in, the “investment capital to retrofit the economy” was largely unavailable, with state representatives “focused on bringing funds to their individual districts.”

“We changed that 180 degrees,” Cuomo added.

And Albany “knows it’s working,” according to the governor, who referenced plummeting statewide unemployment numbers – from 8.5 percent in 2011 to 5 percent today – and noted that such declines usually hinge on gains in the NYC region.

“In the old days, declines in unemployment would be driven by downstate New York,” Cuomo said. “The city would do well, but Upstate New York would not participate in that success.

“These numbers are the exact opposite,” Cuomo added. “Unemployment has dropped all across New York, and most regions have enjoyed a greater drop than has happened in New York City.

“Economic success in New York is finally a statewide story.”

Although it did not claim a top prize this year, the Long Island REDC has been one of the most successful of the 10 regional councils since Cuomo initiated the funds competition in 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 400 Island projects earned better than $424 million in state support, including 121 projects receiving funding in 2015.

That included $2.25 million for an effort by Farmingdale State College, private biotech Codagenix Inc. and other partners to establish a state-of-the-art biotech research consortium.

The Next Generation Vaccine Development Project at Farmingdale State was recently called off, as project leaders couldn’t close the gap on the estimated $38 million project. But Law noted that effort, like all others that make it into the LIREDC’s annual pitch deck to the state, was carefully vetted – and didn’t actually receive any ESD funding, since it could not meet fund-matching requirements.

The vaccine-development facility might not be dead yet, Law added, noting he met recently with Farmingdale State College President W. Hubert Keen and “agreed to work with him to try and resurrect the project.” But on Thursday, the focus is on the slate of 2016 projects that will share in the $62 million haul.

The $486 million earned by the LIREDC since 2011 is “recognition of just how important Long Island is to the entire state economy,” according to Law, “and a realization that the state gets the best return on investment on Long Island than any other part of the state.”

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