October 09, 2007

Seminar Tackles State Budget Process Issues

By: by Adam Sichko, The Business Review


If only the state budget process was as easy as making a royal decree.

Instead, it's an arduous task of lining up regions with distinct economic pressures and priorities.

"Our approach and our programs are outdated, whether you're in Rensselaer County or Erie County," said Daniel Gundersen, upstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corp. "We've not adjusted to where the private sector is today."

To help change that, up to 100 area leaders and elected officials huddled at the Albany NanoTech campus Thursday afternoon for seminars and discussions surrounding key questions: Where are the gaps, and how can they be fixed?

Gundersen said their answers are going to help shape the governor's budget proposal, enabling local leaders to help determine how the state should prioritize its funding. That means current programs could be tweaked, and new ones might be established as a result of feedback from the sessions and from future discussions.

"We can't just walk away and ascend the mountaintop and come down with tablets," Gundersen said, making a biblical reference.

He made his remarks in an interview toward the end of the event at which media were not allowed to attend the meetings. The Albany area was the last of seven such events that the state's development arm held across upstate New York.

"The people who know best about local issues are the people on the ground. We need to listen and coordinate and bring state resources to the table," said Patrick Foye, the group's downstate chairman. "We don't want to impose a top-down solution."

Topics covered at each 45-minute session included:

  • infrastructure limitations that businesses face when looking to expand;
  • how to better utilize resources at UAlbany to influence regional workforce and growth issues;
  • the most effective ways to attract new foreign investment and promote companies already in the state.

Gundersen said many in attendance were thankful to even be asked for their contributions.

"It's a question of, 'What are we missing? Are we headed in the right direction?' " Gundersen said. "All seven (upstate) regions have distinct differences, but there are similarities in all of them."

Michele Vennard, president of the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, had a similar reaction after attending the event.

"The economic challenges to rural areas can be fairly universal throughout the state. There are certainly some common themes," Vennard said. One discussion centered around how to incorporate the private sector when public officials decide to do a trade mission, she said.

"The challenge is going to be distilling all that into a plan with deliverables that you are going to be able to measure," she added.