Cuomo to Announce $20M Green Jobs Competition in Southern Tier

Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to announce a $20 million green jobs competition for the region...

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By Joseph Spector via the Ithaca Journal, 1/19/15

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday will unveil a $20 million competitive fund to lure green jobs to the Southern Tier and a $50 million initiative to preserve farmland in the region and in the Hudson Valley.

The $20 million fund to attract new, clean-energy projects to the Southern Tier comes as Cuomo is expected to put an added focus on the economically struggling area.

The fund will be announced as part of the Democratic governor's State of the State and budget address Wednesday. If approved by the state Legislature, it would be patterned off a smaller $5 million business competition the state held in Buffalo last year.

Cuomo has said in recent weeks that helping the Southern Tier, as well as other upstate cities, would be a major effort of his second term in office.

"The governments in upstate New York have to be economically viable, and many are not now," Cuomo said Thursday in Rochester.

The Buffalo plan, called 43 North, awarded $1 million to a business who could "pitch their most innovative ideas" to the state. Cuomo called the Buffalo effort the "world's largest business idea competition," and it drew in 6,932 business ideas. Ten additional awards were issued, ranging from $500,000 to $250,000.

State officials expect the competition in the Southern Tier to create synergy with Binghamton University, which last summer broke ground on a $70 million Smart Energy Research and Development Facility. Also, the school is among state universities that participate in the state's Start-UP NY program, which provides tax-free zones to new businesses.

Last month, Cuomo and his aides agreed to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, which would have had an economic benefit in the gas-rich Southern Tier. Cuomo said the health risks outweighed the benefits, and he vowed to find other ways to create new opportunities in the region.

"I don't think jobs should have to come at the cost of public health, and we can come up with an economic development strategy for the Southern Tier that develops the economy, produces jobs, but doesn't put public health at risk," Cuomo said last month.

Cuomo also has asked a state board to reconsider the region for a casino after it was passed over last month for one in the Finger Lakes. The board agreed earlier this month to reopen the bidding for a Southern Tier casino.

Meanwhile, Cuomo is expected to announce $50 million in funding for farm preservation in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley as part of his 2015-16 budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1. It would be a major boost from the $14 million designated each year for farmland protection.

The goal, Cuomo said, is to ensure that farms remain intact in both regions, as well as expand farming initiatives, such as Taste-NY that promotes New York products. Farming is a booming industry in New York, particularly with new wineries and cideries, as well as dairy farms for the growing yogurt industry.

"Funding for farm preservation projects will help our region's farms continue to produce the goods the state is known for and help our agriculture industry continue to thrive," Cuomo said in a statement obtained by Gannett's Albany Bureau.

For the Southern Tier, $30 million would go towards a request for proposals in six counties: Allegany, Steuben, Chemung, Tioga, Broome and Chenango.

The state would provide $500 an acre in aid to farms in exchange for them accepting an easement to ensure the land remains farmland for 25 years. The state said the six-county region already has 5,024 farms, each averaging 186 acres. The funding would be a one-time payment to reinvest in the land.

In the Hudson Valley, $20 million would be available for farmers to purchase farmland conservation easements. The goal would be to protect at least 4,600 acres of farmland in the Hudson Valley, which has more than 5,300 farms.

Farmers in New York set a sales record in 2013, racking in $5.7 billion in cash receipts -- a $1 billion increase from three years ago, state officials announced last month.

"New York's agriculture industry produces some of the best products in the country, and it is important that government supports their production and business efforts to ensure opportunity for the state's farmers," Cuomo said.

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