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June, 2003

ERIE-NIAGARA REGIONAL PARTNERSHIP IMPROVES BI-COUNTY
COMMUNICATION, FORGES NEW INITIATIVES IN SEVERAL AREAS

Partnership now administered by Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Founded five years ago to improve communication between Erie and Niagara counties, the Erie-Niagara Regional Partnership (ENRP), an ad hoc subcommittee of the Erie and Niagara Legislatures, has evolved into a vital conduit for cross-county cooperation and collaboration.

Indeed, ENRP, now administered by the University at Buffalo's Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth, has not only facilitated communication across the two counties, but also has forged major bi-county initiatives in the fields of economic development, transportation, tourism and culture, and government affairs.

"When the ENRP was founded, the two counties didn't really talk to each other. Now we are pursuing key initiatives together," said Sean O'Connor, co-chair of ENRP and chairman of the Niagara County Legislature. "This organization has proved that we are much stronger when we look beyond our jurisdictional boundaries for projects beneficial to both counties."

To give local officials in the two counties a chance to explore the role of ENRP, its projects and initiatives, as well as opportunities to participate in its various efforts, ENRP, along with the Niagara County Supervisors Association and the Erie County Association of Local Governments, hosted a Local Governments Forum on June 11 at Erie Community College.

"ENRP has built a foundation for regional cooperation that has effectively opened the lines of communication between the two counties and led to a host of valuable projects and initiatives," said Hon. Peter McMahon, representative of the Erie County Association of Local Governments. "This forum helped us to inform local officials of the work we do and how they can get involved."

The 34-member organization, comprised of elected officials and leaders of the region's business, labor, planning and development, and tourism and arts communities, sets regional priorities and employs its membership's diverse expertise to develop and implement related strategies and proposals.

Building on the growing trust and communication between the two counties, ENRP has taken on major efforts -- from electronic permitting and economic development to cultural tourism and regional growth -- that connect to create a framework of support for economic development.

"Essentially, through ENRP's various projects and initiatives, we are working to build a better regional infrastructure for economic development," said Barry Weinstein, M.D., co-chair of ENRP and 15th District Representative in the Erie County Legislature.

For instance, in 1999, ENRP took a major step forward when it helped form the Regional Economic Development Database (REDD), an online information resource with building site, workforce and infrastructure data that helps regional agencies respond in a timely fashion to economic development inquiries.

"REDD, which has become an important tool of the region's central economic development group, the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, is a prime example of how the ENRP and the counties themselves respond to regional challenges in the form of effective and practical projects and initiatives," said John B. Sheffer, II, ad hoc ENRP member and executive director of UB's Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth, which built, implemented and now maintains REDD.

Also in response to the region's economic development challenges, ENRP commissioned a study in 2001 examining 100 sites in Erie and Niagara counties to determine which were "shovel ready." In 2002, in conjunction with the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, ENRP integrated the 17 shovel-ready sites into the region's business attraction efforts.

ENRP initiated in summer 2002 the Erie Niagara Economic Development Working Group which, based on that group's recommendations, has led to the development of a Regional Economic Development Strategy under a current project with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

More recently, the ENRP has partnered with Erie County to develop a pilot online permitting program. Additionally, the ENRP Tourism and Culture Subcommittee is working with state and local transportation departments to improve the region's way-finding infrastructure by developing a signage program for cultural sites throughout the region.

"Our priority is not only to assist the region in focusing on key issues, but to help the region take action in a manner that more efficiently uses the limited resources and efforts of the two counties," said Wright Ellis, ENRP member and Chairman of the Niagara County Supervisors Association. "At the Local Governments Forum we hoped to communicate our role to the wider community and build upon our foundation of regional cooperation."

Added Weinstein: "In working together to strengthen both counties, ENRP is working to improve the vitality and quality of life of the entire region."

For further information, contact Tod A. Kniazuk, ENRP Administrator, at (716) 829-3777 or tkniazuk@buffalo.edu