In 2015, hundreds of people from across Greater Rochester came together through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council to create a strategic plan for our region’s economic future. That plan was called “United for Success: Finger Lakes Forward” and it was selected by New York State for an unprecedented $500 million, five-year investment through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative competition.
The FLREDC has since been focused on implementing the Finger Lakes Forward vision and is proud to announce the $500 million is virtually fully committed, nearly two years ahead of schedule.
To date, 100 projects have received commitments of $498 million in state funding. These projects will leverage more than $1.77 billion in additional investment (private, local, federal), will create approximately 4,000 new jobs, and have already helped retain over 6,200 jobs for our region. The investments in these projects are seeds that will help grow our regional economy for years to come and represent a new foundation on which our transforming economy will be built. Updated information on every project that has received a URI funding commitment can be viewed here.
The largest amount of URI funding was dedicated to the optics, photonics and imaging industry cluster, which already boasts more than 100 companies and 17,000 employees in our region and is building on our legacy as a global imaging leader. Thanks to URI-supported expansions by companies like Optimax and Rochester Precision Optics, and the new state-of-the-art AIM Photonics cleanrooms at Eastman Business Park, the next generation of OPI technologies will also emanate from Rochester.
The agriculture and food production industry is a growing contributor to our regional economy thanks to incredibly innovative industry leaders like Cornell and Wegmans. URI-supported expansions at companies such as American Packaging Corp. in Chili, HP Hood in Batavia, Intergrow in Ontario, LiDestri at Eastman Business Park, and RealEats in Geneva demonstrate the health of this sector and the opportunities being cultivated by strong collaborations and strategic use of incentives.
Like many parts of the country, traditional manufacturing has evolved into making products with advanced “next-gen” technologies and our region is seizing the moment. Downtown Rochester is being rebuilt before our eyes into a new Downtown Innovation Zone with over 175 creative-class companies, led by an explosion of software and IT companies like Datto and LiveTiles, and a more than $200 million combined investment to expand the nationally-recognized Strong Museum of Play and to “ROC the Riverway,” where 13 initial projects will reimagine public access to the Genesee River waterfront. Eastman Business Park is becoming a leading industrial park once again, now with 110 tenant companies and more than 6,600 employees thanks to expansions at places like ON Semiconductor, DuPont, and enhancements to old Kodak film technologies that are now leveraged to make new battery and energy storage products. We are also continuing to build out the STAMP industrial mega-site in Genesee County and facilitated expansion of IEC Electronics in Wayne County, among many others.
Entrepreneurship and innovation were the essential ingredients in our proud history and remain pivotal for a successful future. Today, we have an outstanding network of organizations dedicated to guiding startups and commercializing innovations, particularly from our world-class higher education institutions. But access to capital for companies that want to remain in Rochester has proven elusive, which is why the URI was used to create a new early-venture fund with Excell Partners and two new business competition/accelerator programs: Luminate NY for OPI companies based out of NextCorps in the renovated Sibley Building, and Grow NY for ag and food innovations to be run by Cornell for all of upstate, leveraging their facilities in Ithaca and Geneva.
There are 19 higher education institutions in our region, including the major research universities that fuel our economy, Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Rochester. URI funding is being used at each for a large-scale public-private partnership. RIT is host of the Manufacturing USA institute called REMADE, which develops sustainable manufacturing that reduces energy consumption in industrial processes. And UR is tapping into “big data” with the creation of the Goergen Institute of Data Science to house the New York State Center of Excellence in Data Science and a new Data Science Consortium with industry partners like Harris, where together they work on cutting-edge techniques to problems like analyzing billions of images for security and commercial applications.
The FLREDC recognizes everyone has a role to play in reducing the unacceptable levels of poverty in our community. Through the Pathways to Prosperity strategy, and in partnership with the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, URI funding has been committed for everything from adult skills training to early childhood interventions that provide dual-generational approaches to workforce development. This includes projects with Monroe Community College, adult and youth mentoring pilot programs, a new initiative to integrate systems used by health, education and social service providers, a new community development fund to focus on the city of Rochester’s commercial corridors, and a unique grant incentive for employers that hire people impacted by poverty and give them a better change at self-sufficiency.
In addition to the $500 million, these URI projects also benefited from another $130 million in state incentives, primarily from the Excelsior Jobs Tax Credit program. And that’s on top of the $656 million from New York State that has been awarded to 856 projects over the last eight years through the FLREDC’s annual Consolidated Funding Application rounds. All told, from 2011 to 2018 the state has invested an astounding $6.2 billion into the Finger Lakes regional economy as part of the governor’s commitment to upstate revitalization.
But the Finger Lakes Forward story is about much more than money. It’s a shared vision of what our economic future will look like and the steps we are taking together to make it happen.
Now that so many funding commitments have been made to so many important projects, it’s all about execution. A recent survey of URI project sponsors reported the majority of these projects had yet to even begin. That means most of these performance-based URI grants have not yet been disbursed and our region is just starting to see the positive economic impacts that will accompany these business expansions.
In the coming months and years, the state will continue helping to make projects successful around our region. And the FLREDC will be creating an improved public dashboard to track progress towards our strategic goals of creating jobs, driving private investment, creating wealth and reducing poverty.
We know much work remains to overcome the challenges of being in the middle of a transformation to a knowledge-based economy. But with a smart plan, innovative companies, and a commitment from New York State, we have built momentum and will keep moving forward to a brighter future.
Vincent Esposito is a vice president with Empire State Development and serves as the executive director of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.