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State approves very little in economic development for Orleans

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 December 2013 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Bent’s Opera House is eyed as a performing arts center with a restaurant and retail/office space. The state denied the project any funding in the latest round of economic development grants.

New York State won’t be playing Santa Claus for Orleans County. A breakdown of the state economic development grants, announced today, shows very little for Orleans County despite the county’s high unemployment and clear need for these funds.

The state approved $58.9 million for 94 projects in the nine-county Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. This is the third year the state has awarded the funds through regional councils.

Bent’s Operas House in Medina was recommended by the council for state funding for a roof repair and renovations. Orleans Renaissance Group, owner of the building, sought $500,000 in state funding, but the organization was denied even a cent from the state.

The state approved $65,776 to the village of Holley for a canal park improvement project. Holley will use the funding to improve its existing gazebo, pavilions and stone paths.

New elements of the park will include tree planting, installation of grills and picnic tables, fire pits, and the purchase of new equipment to maintain the park.

The improved amenities should make the canal park a bigger attraction for Holley, drawing more bicyclists and boaters, state officials said.

Another grant allocates $46,680 for Community Action of Orleans & Genesee to provide employment support services for residents in the two counties. Community Action will offer job skills instruction and training, job placement assistance, computer skills and financial literacy.

These are the only grants that are targeted to a project in Orleans County. That’s barely $100,000 out of $715 million approved across the state. It’s woeful for a county burdened with poverty and high unemployment.

There is grumbling from rural county leaders that the new system hurts the small counties because the state tends to pick projects with an emphasis on job creation and capitol investment. The state also wants a local match for many of the projects.

Those criteria are steering more projects to the bigger communities that have deeper pockets and staffs to put together the applications.

I’ll have more on this in the coming days. But this is bad news for Orleans County.

Orleans is listed as recipient of some other multi-county initiatives including $62,050 through the Arts Council of Wyoming County to add culinary traditions to farmers markets and other agrarian, horticultural and rustic events. The initiative will expose market and festival goers to traditional foods and local chefs, according to state officials.

Orleans is listed as one of nine counties that would benefit form a $250,000 grant to High Tech Rochester Inc. The funding will help create a partnership between High Tech Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester to leverage each partner’s strengths to improve the breadth of services to all entrepreneurial activities in the Finger Lakes Region.

A grant that covers eight counties, including Orleans, will fund a regional watershed management plan through the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. The $507,830 focuses on a watershed management plan for the Niagara River and Lake Erie.