North Country Regional Economic Development Council ‘priority project’ performance varies across counties
By ANDY GARDNER
St. Lawrence County has a higher failure rate for state-funded economic development projects than most neighboring counties in the North Country.
Of 12 “priority projects” funded during the past six years by the eight-county North Country Regional Economic Development Council that have been put on hold, five -- or 41.7 percent -- are in St. Lawrence County.While St. Lawrence County was awarded 26.3 percent of NCREDC projects in the past six years, the county accounts for just three of the region’s 16 completed projects, or 18.8 percent.
Since 2011, NCREDC has awarded St. Lawrence County 21 of the North Country region’s 78 “priority projects” -- deemed to be the most significant business ventures funded by NCREDC.
Four of those 21 were canceled and one is stalled, according to NCREDC’s 2017-18 progress report (see story at right). Expansions at Ogdensburg International Airport and Curran Renewable Energy in Massena and rehabilitation of railroad tracks in Newton Falls have been completed, and the rest are listed as “on schedule.”
Essex County is the only other county in the eight-county region results that are close to St. Lawrence County -- three of 11 priority projects canceled or funding was declined, according to the progress report. That’s 13 percent of the North Country’s priority projects and 25 percent of the regional total of those canceled or concerning. Essex County also has about 6 percent of the completed projects in the region.
Jefferson County accounts for 20 percent of the priority projects, 18.8 percent of completed priority projects and 16.7 percent of those canceled or with concerns in the region. Clinton County has 8.8 percent of the priority projects, about 6 percent of the region’s completed projects and 8.3 percent of those canceled or concerning in the region. Lewis County has 11.3 percent of the priority projects, 12.5 percent of the completed priority projects and 8.3 percent of the regional total of those canceled or concerning. Three counties are listed as having no priority projects canceled or with concerns: Franklin (11.3 percent of the region’s total, 18.8 percent of the completed priorities), Hamilton (7.5 percent of total, 18.8 percent of the completed priority projects) and Herkimer (about 1 percent of total, no completed priority projects).
Companies receiving Regional Economic Development Council money must first build their project and, in some cases, hire a stated number of employees before getting the grant as a reimbursement.
If a project is canceled or the funding is turned down, the funding remains in the North Country and is allocated to future projects within the region.
Empire State Development spokesman Jason Conwall said “it usually ends up supporting more than one project or combined into a larger deal. It's more like a pot of funds that can be committed to projects in the region than it is a clean line from Project A to Project B. I should also note that all reallocations are approved by the Regional Economic Development Council during a public meeting.” ESD administers Regional Economic Development Council funding.
The North Country is about in the middle of the 10-region pack state-wide for both completed priority projects and those that have been canceled or have ongoing concerns.
Our region is listed with nine canceled projects and three with concerns, which is 15 percent of 78 priority projects.
Mohawk Valley has the highest percentage of canceled or concerning priority projects. They have 35 that were canceled and one with ongoing concerns, 24 percent of their 150 priority projects. The Central New York region has 43 canceled projects and three with concerns, 23 percent of their 196. Capital Region has 19 canceled and six with concerns, 22 percent of 115. Long Island has 28 canceled and one with concerns, 15 percent of their 198. The Mid-Hudson region has 12 canceled and nine with concerns, 13 percent of 89 priority projects. Western New York has 12 canceled and no priority projects with concerns, 12 percent of 101. Southern Tier has nine canceled and five with concerns, 11 percent of 131. New York City has three canceled projects and one with ongoing concerns, 7 percent of their 55 priority projects. The Finger Lakes has the lowest percentage, four canceled and none with concerns, 3 percent of 139 priority projects.
When ranking the 10 regions in terms of completed priority projects, the North Country is still in the middle. The region with the highest rate of completion is Finger Lakes, 40 percent, with 55 out of 139. Next is Mohawk Valley, 27 percent, 41 out of 150. The Capital Region also has 27 percent, 31 out of 115. Central New York has completed 24 percent of their priority projects, 48 out of 196. Southern Tier is at 21 percent, 27 out of 131. The North Country also has completed 21 percent of priority projects, 16 out of 78. Western New York has 20 percent completed, 20 out of 101. Long Island is at 19 percent, 38 out of 198. New York City has 16 percent complete, nine out of 55 priority projects. The Mid-Hudson region has to lowest rate of completed priority projects, 11 percent, or 10 out of 89.
How the Program Works
For the Regional Economic Development Council program, Albany has split New York into 10 regions, with St. Lawrence County in North Country region.
The councils, which include representatives from private and public enterprises, either seek out projects in their region or have them submitted through the state Consolidated Funding Application, commonly called a CFA.
“It’s one application you can apply to. Basically, it’s a portal to every state funding,” Conwall said.
The councils take the projects they receive, score them out of 20 and forward them to the state, who assigns up to an extra 80 points. The highest scored projects receive funding. “Priority projects” have to be considered “transformative and transformational” to its region, and they automatically receive a score of 20 from its respective regional council.
The funding can come from a number of different programs, Conwall said.
“The funding that’s available is from 11 or 12 different agencies, a couple dozen different programs between all those different agencies,” he said. “It’s about $750 million in awards and it’s not all just Empire State Development.
“A lot of the money here used to be member items … legislators picking pet projects and earmarking money in the budget … A good way to think about the regional councils is it’s not a new funding program. It’s a new process for how the state decides where funding goes. We believe it’s a much better approach to doing it because projects have to have merit.”
Job creation is not always necessary to get funding, but some of the programs that feed funding through the regional councils could require it.
“At the end of the day, not every project needs job creation … some of it is infrastructure or environmental remediation,” Conwall said.
A statewide online database at https://nyscfaprojectdata.ny.gov/cfadatatable shows that Empire State Development administered funding for 20 out of the 21 priority projects awarded in St. Lawrence County between 2011 and 2016. One project didn’t come up when searched in the database, a failed attempt by C Speed to build a radar manufacturing facility in Potsdam.
See earlier story for more details on NCREDC successes and failures in St. Lawrence County.