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Whether it be agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare or education – local leaders agree that Central New York's strengths must be utilized, and the red tape that chokes them, abolished.

Leaders in government, business and developmental agencies gathered tonight at Genesee Community College, offering their insight on how best to develop our region. The meeting was part of the Regional Economic Development plan authored by New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo. Under the framework of the model, Genesee County has been lumped together with 8 other counties in the Finger Lakes region. The idea is that all involved counties will pool their capital and natural resources, with the goal of creating collaborative in-roads to attract business.

Cuomo's plan was explained in further detail tonight by Finger Lakes Regional Director Bob McNary (inset). Ultimately, $200-million is up for grabs in New York State. Each Regional Council in New York is on a strict deadline to develop a 5-year strategic plan, due by November 14th. The plan must display viability in six key areas: regional vision, development process, strategy, implementation, leveraging of resources, and projected performance.

The four plans deemed strongest by a review board will each receive $40-million in capital grants and Excelsior funding. The remaining $40-million will be divided between the remaining 6 regions. McNary pointed out that with 9 counties, Finger Lakes is the largest region in the system. But he says that's not necessarily an advantage.

"It's going to come down to who addresses the issues and opportunities properly," McNary said, "...basically, which plan really excels."

To find those opportunities, the meeting broke out into roundtable sessions, with 9 groups of bureaucrats and businessmen all focusing on regional strengths and roadblocks.

One group, featuring Mancuso Realty CEO Tony Mancuso and Batavia City Manager Jason Molino, sought to promote tourism and manufacturing.

"One thing we should look to do is bring in the suppliers to support our large manufacturers," Mancuso told the group. After Molino offered the example of Graham Manufacturing, Mancuso proposed that regional developers attempt to lure a steel manufacturer or vendor to supply Graham.

But Molino later cautioned that one type of industry is not more important than the other.

"When you talk about strengths and opportunities, a lot of them overlap. For example, tourism could overlap with agriculture, when you're talking about wineries," he said. "I don't think we intend them to be 'individual' strengths and opportunities; they should interconnect and feed each other."

Rachel Tabelski agreed, and found similar sentiment in her group. As Marketing Manager for the Genesee County Economic Development Center, she sees the direct effect a strong tourism market can have on attracting businesses and workforce.

"The sales tax revenue from tourism is directly infused into our county, to lower the tax base," she said.

Batavia City Council President Marianne Clattenburg stressed to her group the importance of large-scale manufacturing and technology industries, the type that can lead to thousand-job development. "My perspective coming from the city, is to bring jobs in...along the lines of the Masse Project and other opportunities," she said. "I wanted to bring some of the focus to the needs of the urban areas."

Clattenburg's group mainly focused on collaboration between the private and public sector. She noted the recent sewer line deal for Genesee County's Agri-Business Park as an example of those sorts of co-development opportunities.

All of the strengths, opportunities and roadblocks for the Finger Lakes Region will be submitted to the heads of the Finger Lakes Regional Council. They will reference those factors in their strategic planning process.

All part of a new and refreshing state process that may help New York be more "Open for Business," as the new slogan goes.

"What it's doing is bringing people together from all walks of life...getting them focused on jobs and the economy" said GCEDC President Steve Hyde after the meeting. "I think we'll end up with better  discussions and better outcomes than just keeping it within...the people who live and work this every day."

PHOTOS: inset top, Finger Lakes Regional Director Bob McNary; inset middle, Tony Mancuso (left) and Batavia City Manager Jason Molino; inset bottom, Batavia City Council President Marianne Clattenburg

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