By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the North Country provides the perfect example of how the Regional Economic Development Council program should work.
“There is no New York state economy. It doesn’t exist,” Cuomo told a crowd at the West Side Ballroom Wednesday morning.
“There are regional economies that, as an aggregate, wind up being the state economy,”
The governor was here as part of his statewide tour of Regional Economic Development Council regions to check on progress from last year’s awards and to stump for this year’s program.
The program was put together to help stimulate the economies of various regions of the state by providing funds for lingering and new projects in hopes that they would create jobs.
Cuomo, during his 11-minute speech, said breaking up the state into different regions and having them compete for funding is the best way to help the state as a whole.
“We made it a competition because people like to win, and people don’t like to lose,” he said.
‘IT IS WORKING’
The North Country did well in the inaugural competition for funding from the program last year, as it received $103.2 million, the second highest amount in the state.
Among the projects impacted by the funding in Clinton County are the historic Strand Theater in downtown Plattsburgh and Bombardier Transportation.
Franklin County benefited from funding for Trudeau Institute and other projects; recipients in St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis and Hamilton counties fall under the North Country umbrella as well.
Cuomo said the whole idea was to get counties, towns and villages with similar features to work together as a region, which didn’t always happen before.
“We are in our second year of this, and it is working,” he said.
“There is an energy in the North Country that is new and different ... you can feel it, and that energy, in and of itself, brings about a synergistic confidence.”
After meeting with regional leaders at the West Side Ballroom, the governor took a bus tour of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base and stopped at the Strand and Bombardier.
The Strand was awarded $397,000 to help with the restoration of the circa-1924 theater on Brinkerhoff Street. The project has the potential to create about 80 jobs and is designed to help stimulate the downtown area.
Bombardier, the Canadian-based rail-car company, which has been producing rail cars in Plattsburgh since 1995, was awarded $2.5 million for a major expansion of its primary production facility off Wall Street.
The 80,000-square-foot expansion of the plant is expected to create about 100 new jobs and keep about 288 existing jobs in Plattsburgh, along with bringing in about $22 million in private investment.
‘IT LIFTS EVERYONE’
Recently, Bombardier was awarded a contract to produce 300 subway cars for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City, and it also won a contract earlier this year to produce 775 cars for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco.
Mitch Graham and Kevin Bushey, both 13-year veterans at Bombardier, said the Regional Economic Development Council program has been good for the company.
“We are like a big family here, and when we hear good news like that, it lifts everyone here,” Graham said.
“That means more workers will be staying here in our family.”
Bushey said the plant has done well and has been good for the area.
“It’s great to see the governor visit here today. It means a lot,” he said.
While the Regional Economic Development Council initiative has been a big hit with Bombardier and other businesses, it is not so popular with some.
State Assembly Conservative Party candidate Karen Bisso has said that she believes the program mirrors the failed federal economic stimulus package of President Barack Obama.
Bisso opposes giving the $2.5 million in funding to Bombardier, a company that had massive profits last year, she said in a recent debate.
When asked about Bisso’s views, the governor had little to say.
“Sometimes, you don’t even bother responding to something like that,” he said.
“I have no idea what that comment is about.”
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