This past year saw many changes for the Erie-Niagara Regional Partnership (ENRP), with two new co-chairs - Niagara County Legislature Chairman Bradley Erck and Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Barry Weinstein, MD - taking the helm. Ten new members and two new ad hoc members were also welcomed into the organization.
It is fair to say that 2002 was a breakthrough year for ENRP. When the group formed in 1998, it was a major step forward that the two counties were beginning to work together on a regular basis. From there, we began working on a series of small but important projects, but we shied away from most major initiatives as being too daunting for us to accomplish. That all changed this year, as you will see in the following year-end report. While we will certainly continue to work on the smaller scale projects, we have positioned ourselves to be involved in several sweeping efforts in 2003. This is a testament to our co-chairs, and to a membership willing to invest their time, effort, and energy to our organization.
Thank you to this year's four subcommittee chairs: John Simon - Economic Development, Peter McMahon - Government Affairs, John Greenan - Tourism & Culture, and Hal Morse - Transportation. Special thanks should go out to two members who will not be with us in 2003 - John Greenan (a founding member) and Patrick Keyes. We wish them success in their future endeavors, and thank them for their service to ENRP.
Finally, I would like to thank the co-chairs, as well as Erie County Legislature Chairman Albert DeBenedetti, for the opportunity to continue in my service as the ENRP's administrator. I have seen this group go from a good idea that many thought could not accomplish very much to a fully realized regional collaborative that is a major player in the two counties' regional efforts. I look forward to 2003.
Tod A. Kniazuk
Administrator, Erie-Niagara Regional Partnership
Majority Staff, Erie County Legislature
Economic Development Working Group: "One Stop Shop"
Recognizing the need to make business attraction and economic development efforts as seamless as possible, the Erie-Niagara Regional Partnership convened a working group from both counties to begin the process of moving toward a "one stop shop" for economic development. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for a company to go through the permitting, planning, and construction process by centralizing the various entities and aspects of the process into one shop, be it an actual physical plant or a virtual centralized shop. The ultimate goal is to provide one such shop per county, with those two facilities (Erie and Niagara) working closely together, sharing information and perhaps even staff.
The Economic Development Working Group (EDWG) completed its charge to provide recommendations for the governance of a one stop shop. It determined early on that before an agency is created a regional strategy for economic development should be developed. As such, the group - under the chairmanship of ENRP Ad Hoc Member John Sheffer, II - provided a set of 14 recommendations to the ENRP at its December general meeting.
There has been a significant buy-in from the economic development community on this project, and the strategy will be developed in the first half of next year through the UB Institute of Local Governance and Regional Growth. The goal is to have the agencies adopt the strategy, and make it the economic development portion of the Framework for Regional Growth. Following the development of the strategy, we will return to the one stop shop facility concept. This project marks a milestone for the ENRP, as it is the first large-scale project initiated and developed by the organization, moving us into another level of work.
Understanding that the length of time it takes to get a building permit in our region is far longer than the national average, ENRP has been advocating for bi-county electronic permitting utilizing a common application for two years. Following a data collection phase where building permits were collected from every municipality in the two counties, the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning agreed to develop a pilot e-permitting site and program. After some preliminary work was done by DEP, in 2002 ENRP moved the project to the UB Institute of Local Governance and Regional Growth. The Institute is developing a pilot for the Town of Lockport, Wales, the Village of Hamburg, Amherst, and the City of Tonawanda. Ciminelli and Ellicott Development have agreed to test the site, and the City of Buffalo is also participating, although they will not be part of the pilot as they could overwhelm it.
In addition to the pilot, the Institute will train municipalities throughout next spring and summer in the system's use. The pilot's cost is $136,400, to be borne by Erie County. Municipalities would be responsible for the costs of their future participation. The target date for completion of the pilot is April, 2003, with training occurring in the spring and summer of next year.
Our region has been designated the official I Love NY summer festival site for 2003, and we are constantly trying to bring residents and tourists alike to our many cultural attractions. A major stumbling block, however, is the lack of adequate signage - especially on our highways and thruways. To that end, ENRP is undertaking a tourist sign project to attempt to aid our cultural tourism efforts.
The first stage of the project was an outreach effort to our municipalities, CVBs, and Arts Councils, asking them to submit potential sites for inclusion in the effort. We then mapped the sites for the most logical placement of signs. We are now taking that list to NYSDOT, Governor Pataki, and the Western New York delegation of the NYS Legislature to attempt to get the signs in place in time for the aforementioned "One Summer Long Sensation" in 2003. Following the placement of the signs on the thruways and highways, we will then work with the municipalities to get local signs further directing motorists to the attractions.
Regional Economic Development Database (REDD)
The Regional Economic Development Database (REDD), one of ENRP's early successes, continues to be a valuable asset to the economic development community, and the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise (BNE) in particular. In 2002, there was an attempt to move the database from the UB Institute of Local Governance and Regional Growth (where it has been housed since its inception) to an Erie County server. This was met with resistance by the ENRP, as it was felt that a bicounty database belonged at a neutral site. In addition, it was felt that through interns and other resources, the Institute was best able to meet the demands of keeping the data current. The end result is that the REDD will remain at UB in 2003.
In order to maximize REDD's usefulness, it is now being marketed to the other six counties in Western New York for their possible inclusion. One issue is the REDD's continued reliance on public dollars. Some feel that since the BNE is the database's main user, they should also be responsible for financing the REDD, either in whole or in part. This issue will have to be resolved in the coming months, but in any case the REDD remains a valuable tool in our economic development efforts.
Erie and Niagara Counties offer a wide array of collaborative possibilities with their municipalities, but they may not be as widely known as they should be. To make these services known, ENRP developed and sent out a brochure detailing the programs and contact information to all the municipalities in the two counties. ENRP Members Peter McMahon and Wright Ellis - our local governments associations' representatives - led this effort and presented the brochures to their respective associations. Feedback has been quite positive, and we intend to send out periodic updates to the brochures.
The upcoming relicensing of the Niagara Power Project is one of the most significant economic development issues in many years for our region. As such, ENRP has been a strong supporter of the Relicensing Consensus Committee (RCC), headed up by ENRP Member Samuel Ferraro. Through ENRP the two legislatures have approved resolutions in support of the alternative method of relicensing, and have also approved bi-county funding for the RCC.
Video Conferencing & Arraignment
In the current system, prisoners are transported to their arraignments, resulting in significant costs for the officers, vehicles, and associated expenses of doing so; all for a brief process. This also puts the officers involved at risk, as they are sometimes transporting dangerous criminals. In a public safety and cost saving move, ENRP asked the state to allow video arraignment and video conferencing for these procedures. For a small set up cost, the prisoner never has to leave their facility to be arraigned. This has been approved, and the first stage - video conferencing - is moving forward. Conferencing will be used as a pilot to get all involved comfortable in using the technology, with a goal of then moving on to video arraignments.
Economic Development Public Transportation Project
ENRP is undertaking a major initiative in 2003 that got its start this year. As we train and retrain workers through our Workforce Investment efforts, we have to make sure they can get to the available jobs. Oftentimes the workers live in the city and are without transportation, but the jobs are in the suburbs where there is inadequate public transportation; especially on non-day shifts and on the weekends. The new casino in Niagara Falls is experiencing a similar problem, as many of their workers will be coming from outside that city. ENRP, in conjunction with the NFTA and GBNRTC (both of which are members of ENRP), will develop a project to get these workers to the jobs, and work to institute a system where public transportation needs are integrated in to workforce development and economic development efforts in the future.
Niagara Falls International Airport
ENRP recognizes that there is a significant untapped resource for economic development and transportation in our region - the Niagara Falls International Airport (NFIA). Currently under the control of the NFTA, the NFIA has been underdeveloped for far too long. The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency (NCIDA) applied to manage the airport, but the NFTA chose Cintra instead. That deal fell through, and there is now once again the opportunity for control of the airport by an agency committed to the development of the facility. The Niagara Airport Development Corporation (NADC) is the official agency making the NCIDA's proposal, which went to the NFTA in late September. The four elements of the proposal are TVI, the NADC, Norstar Development, and the WNY AFL-CIO Economic Development Group. The three areas of opportunity are charters, air cargo, and aircraft maintenance. ENRP has supported the NADC's proposal, and has gotten both legislatures to approve resolutions of support as well. The NFIA continues to be an issue that ENRP will be involved in.
Pooled Insurance Bidding
Niagara County Director of Risk Management Wayne Salen gave a proposal in 2002 on his concept for "MUNIIX" - Municipal Inter-Insurance Exchange. MUNIIX would create a special purpose municipal corporation designed to allow taxpayer-funded entities to comingle and cooperatively buy and service allowable commercial insurance coverage in order to create efficiencies of service and administration as well as economies of scale, leading to a lower cost of risk. It would serve as a risk-purchasing group for all participating subscribers. These types of entities have been in existence throughout the Midwest, Southwest, and Western Unites States for years. MUNIIX would allow the counties to write their own customized plan. Essentially, the counties and other partnering municipalities would create their own insurance company. ENRP has committed to pursuing the concept in 2003, in cooperation with the two counties' appropriate departments.
Tourist Rail / CSX
In the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, rail is once again being looked at as a viable transportation alternative, and has always been an important part of our economic development picture. ENRP has been involved in several rail-related initiatives in 2002.
ENRP Member Samuel Ferraro presented an Economic-Tourism Rail Proposal from The Niagara & Western New York Railroad Co. to the general body. The proposal would take an existing line from Brockport to Lockport (on GVT Rail), and extend it to Niagara Falls on CSX line. The existing service already has 500 to 600 riders per weekend. There is also a possibility of extending the line east to Rochester. The company needs CSX to offer trackage rights for Niagara Falls for this to work. CSX, however, doesn't like to mix freight and passenger rail on their lines, and they are concerned about potential liability. These concerns are unwarranted, as GVT already does the line successfully under the same conditions. In light of the potential of this line for tourism and economic development, ENRP supported the proposal and spurred the two legislatures to pass resolutions in support as well.
Earlier in the year it was brought to ENRP's attention that CSX, one of the primary cargo rail lines in the region, was no longer meeting with the two counties as they had been in the past. These meetings were important as they gave the counties the opportunity to prioritize issues such as maintenance and repair of lines and bridges, as well as address various concerns of both government and the rail company. ENRP initiated an effort to reinstate these meetings, and CSX has subsequently returned to the table with the two counties.
Finally, a high-speed rail line from as far north as Toronto all the way down to Ellicottville has been repeatedly mentioned as having real potential for the region. Through ENRP Member Maria Lehman, we are keeping apprised of the study on this issue being undertaken, and will become more involved at the right time.
Site Readiness Working Group
In 2001 ENRP commissioned a study that took 100 sites in Erie and Niagara Counties and determined what state of shovel readiness they were in. In 2002 we took this study and, in conjunction with BNE, moved forward on two fronts. The 17 shovel ready sites were integrated into the region's business attraction efforts. For the rest of the sites, a working group was formed to take the next group and bring them up to shovel ready status, while also paying special attention to urban brownfield sites to make them shovel ready as well. This effort is ongoing.
Peace Bridge Tonawanda Alternative
ENRP has previously stayed out of the Peace Bridge debate, but in light of new Homeland Security requirements for the plaza and their effect on the surrounding neighborhood, we stepped in to urge the review process to include the Tonawanda alternative. ENRP sent a letter to this effect, and ENRP Member Maria Lehman presented this letter at the last public input session. We did not advocate for the site, but only that it be left in the review process.