One of the top agenda items for anyone in elected office is promoting economic development. After all, every community wants the investment, tax revenue and jobs that come from new projects. The question is, what can elected officials actually do to impact economic development?
This question has come to mind with the recent coverage about a potential megaproject coming to the Town of Niagara. This is definitely a cause for excitement and celebration, although rule #1 in economic development is never spike the ball before a project actually crosses the goal line. But what makes a project like this even possible in our community and how do we repeat it?
The answer to all of these questions, I believe, comes down to alignment. By that I mean, a community must have all its ducks in a row long before a project is even on the drawing board. This starts with a clear understanding of where economic development projects are welcome. In the case of the Town of Niagara project, the site is already deemed shovel-ready and has the necessary zoning designations.
Along with this, it is so very important that decision-makers at every level of government act in coordination. We are very fortunate in Niagara County that our level of communication and collaboration is very strong. As a state assemblyman, I am in regular contact with county and municipal leaders to see how our state and federal delegations can help. In this manner, questions get asked, issues get raised and ultimately consensus is reached so our community can put its best foot forward in unity.
Of course, you need first-rate economic development professionals, like those at the Niagara County Center for Economic Development, pulling it all together. These people are living and breathing economic development every day, doing their best to highlight the assets of our community. Their interactions with developers are often the key relationships to moving projects forward.
You may have noticed I have yet to mention the importance of any financial incentives to making these projects happen. Of course, the dollars and cents matter, but those are negotiations that take place once a developer is interested in a potential site. There is no negotiation if your community never makes it to the table. What a developer ultimately wants is to know that once a project is announced, the approval process will be thorough, fair and expeditious. Time really is money and no one wants to get bogged down, especially because of unforeseen issues or opposition. Those are only avoided when there has been open communication and coordination all along.
It’s often been said that football is the ultimate team sport because there are so many different pieces that must come together for success. By that definition, I would say economic development may actually be the ultimate team sport, and I am very proud to be part of the Niagara County team whether it is attracting a megaproject to the Town of Niagara, supporting the expansion of an existing business or encouraging an entrepreneur to take a chance.