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Capacity challenge for economic development council

WBFO News file photo

Through the Buffalo Billion and a number of other programs, there is a lot of state money pouring into Western New York . But there is a problem for small local governments without the staff to look for cash.

Officials of the Empire State Development Corporation and the Regional Economic Development Council have been sweeping around the region talking to local government officials and finding there is a problem.

Not only do many local governments lack planners or economic development officials, they often don't have local development corporations. That's leading to huddles among state officials on how to help, even considering asking universities to have graduate students handling grant applications.

ESDC Regional Director Christina Orsi said it's a problem.

"It really is a capacity challenge for them because they don't have full-time dedicated staff or the full-time economic development professionals to be able to do the complex work around pulling together projects and there's a lot of work that goes into getting a project ready before you can even apply for state funding, whether it's a, you know, major road infrastructure project or rehab of a basic historic property," said Orsi.

In the Southern Tier, local governments are running training programs so village and town officials can understand what the rules are and how to seek cash. It's also a problem in larger counties, with Niagara County Legislature Chairman Bill Ross saying county officials are helping small governments, which just don't have that capacity. 

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.