New York's Regional Economic Development Councils: Planning for Smart Growth

The Governor’s 2012-2013 Executive Budget, released last week, included a second round of funding ($200 million) for Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) projects. The REDC program, announced in the 2011 State of the State, creates ten Regional Councils of “local experts and stakeholders from business, academia, local government, and non-governmental organizations” to lead regional economic development strategic planning efforts, and provide local input into the awarding of some other state grants. According to the Governor’s prepared remarks for the 2012 State of the State address “The Councils have transformed the State's economic development approach from a top-down model to a bottom-up, community-based one. The second round of awards will allow each region to continue shaping its own economic destiny.”

In December, Governor Cuomo announced the first round of economic development awards for the REDCs’ strategic plans. Also announced were awards from the existing grants pooled in the state’s Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process. In total, more than $785 million in grants and tax credits were awarded to the ten regions. The five year strategic plans are available here (navigate to each region’s page). Many plans present community revitalization and efficient infrastructure investment through smart growth as key components of their regional vision, and include projects and strategies that will achieve more robust communities through smart growth of jobs, education and housing. Here are some highlights (West to East):

  • Western NY: “Implement Smart Growth” is one of their three strategies:

Implement smart growth by creating infrastructure conducive to sustainable, healthy and attractive development and enhanced quality of life to grow opportunities and bring in new visitors, residents and business to the region.

  • Southern Tier: Their first priority project is the “Southern Tier Community Revitalization Project,” which received almost $4.8 million in funding:

The Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Corp. will provide “gap financing” for private sector redevelopment of key buildings, infill of new buildings, and development of our region’s downtowns, neighborhoods and rural population centers. The project will allow each community to identify its own priorities to structure projects to support unique local needs in targeted areas. The objective is to leverage public funds and non-profit resources, attract and sustain both short-term and long-term private capital, and catalyze further development. Revitalization projects will create quality commercial space for development and entrepreneurial enterprises and additional residential housing options, while building on existing infrastructure and housing stock with upgrades and new construction in keeping with the downtown and neighborhood character. While enhancing the tax base overall, the initiative will recapture the value of neighborhoods that have underused or deteriorated public assets, and most compellingly, respond to recent natural disasters that have severely impacted the sustainability of many downtowns.

  • Central NY: “Revitalize our Region’s Urban Cores, Main Streets, and Neighborhoods,” is one of three priority goals.
  • Capital Region: Of their five strategies, three directly address community revitalization and smart growth: “Bring cities to life,” “Celebrate and optimize our surroundings,” and “Showcase our beauty.”
  • Long Island: One of their three strategic areas for investment is “Investments in Rebuilding Long Island Communities “Smartly”” including four (of 13) priority projects that are transit-oriented developments (TOD). In addition, two of their six key strategies are:

Develop innovation and industry clusters in transformative locations across the region -- including downtowns, brownfields and university, research and medical centers -- by integrating the smart growth principles of transit-oriented development and vibrant community life.

Rebuild and expand infrastructure to improve job access, revitalize downtowns and transit  hubs, speed trade, and attract and retain dynamic regional businesses and highly skilled workforce.

Some “smart project” highlights include funding for:

  • Long Island: Transit-oriented development projects (as mentioned above) -- Thought Box 1 in Hicksville, Wyandanch Rising in Babylon, the Ronkonkoma Hub, Heartland Town Square in Brentwood, and Hempstead redevelopment.
  • New York City: Hunts Point produce market in the Bronx, and TOD housing and mixed use projects.
  • Western NY: Downtown revitalization of buildings and infrastructure in Olean, Tonawanda, Lockport and Buffalo.
  • Statewide local food and agriculture infrastructure (cold storage and distribution, farmers market facilities, mobile slaughter facility, agriculture enterprise park).
  • And local waterfront revitalization projects around the state.


More “smart plans” that are in the works include seven “Cleaner, Greener Communities” (CGC) regional sustainability plans, to be completed in the next year to improve the environment and quality of life for people in each region. These CGC planning grants were included in the Consolidated Funding Application collection of grants and were announced as part of the REDC funding packages. As detailed in the CFA awards announcement, grantees will:

Develop a Regional Sustainability Plan for the [region] that will establish a sustainability baseline including inventories of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. The plan will assess sustainability indicators including economic assets, liabilities and opportunities as well as transportation, land use, and natural resources. The plan's long-term and short-term goals will address improving energy efficiency, promote renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions. Once the plan is completed, it is intended to inform municipal land use policies, guide both public and private resource investments in infrastructure and identify tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Three regions did not receive CGC planning grants in the December round, but should soon because funding was provided for plans for each region. There will be additional CGC funding for implementation of projects identified in the plans once they are completed later in 2012.

As described above, language in some of the REDC Regional Strategic Plans clearly demonstrates an appreciation for the deep interconnection between jobs, communities, workers, infrastructure, transportation and energy. Now with the opportunity to create strong Cleaner, Greener Communities sustainability plans, the regions will be able to further their efforts to improve outcomes in all of those areas. Strong sustainability plans should integrate clean energy initiatives, spatial efficiency in land use, community revitalization, infrastructure investment, climate adaptation and disaster preparedness, all of which will lead to jobs, cost savings, an improved environment, greater quality of life, and better fiscal positions for local governments.

It is encouraging that the REDC and CFA structures are yielding some good smart growth and community revitalization projects, and will yield more strong planning in the coming year, specifically on regional sustainability. We hope that the Cleaner, Greener Community plans will be tightly integrated with the current Regional Economic Development Strategic Plans and implementation, as well as future rounds of CFA funding and REDC planning.