Well, the North Country did it; it won $103 million from the state to fund projects all over the region that are intended to boost the economy.
The North Country may be the most sparsely populated of the New York regions vying for funds, but its plan was deemed worthy of more funding than any other region except Central New York. Even more valuable than the $103 million is the reputation boost: Our region showed the state it has its act together.
The organizers of this regional plan, led by Garry Douglas of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce and Anthony Collins of Clarkson University, worked very hard and deserve credit for this victory. So do the other members of the team, as well as the leaders of each project included in the regional plan.
This new way of awarding state grants is interesting. The shift is clearly exemplified in Wilmington, where the town was denied additional grant funding to complete its beach revitalization project. Building bathrooms and a pavillion ran over budget, so the grant the town already had wasn't enough to finish the project with parking lot paving, fencing, a handicapped-accessible fishing dock and another trail.
At a town board meeting last week, Supervisor Randy Preston said Wilmington probably would have gotten the extra funds under the old system, but the governor's new, competitive approach knocked the town out of the running.
"Because we had an approved local waterfront revitalization plan, we were before kind of at the top of the list as far as funding," Preston said, "and now, the initiatives were pushed in other directions."
Under the old way, grant-application savvy and political connections mattered as much or more than the economic merit of the project to be funded. Now, if you want money for something, you have to make a strong case for it at a regional level that it will help the economy. If the state's priority is to have more of its money go toward creating jobs, then this makes sense.
The North Country did well in the first year of this new method, but now comes the harder part - proving the state invested its money effectively. It's up to us northerners to make sure this money does create jobs for our neighbors and greater prosperity in general. If not, the state in future years will rightly send its money elsewhere.