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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chautauqua County

Development Czar Promises More Help For Upstate New York Cities

 A Shift In Thinking

Lee Harkness, Downtown Jamestown Development Corp. executive director, far right, speaks to Daniel Gundersen, Empire State Development Corporation co-chair, second from right, during a meeting with local leaders Wednesday at the DJDC offices on Third Street. Mike Sullivan, Chautauqua Institution public relations director, third from right, and County Executive Greg Edwards look on. P-J photo by Patrick L. Fanelli
4/12/2007 - Daniel Gundersen, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's pick to coordinate economic development in Upstate New York, speaks enthusiastically of a shift in thinking that is taking place in Albany.

During a trip to Jamestown on Wednesday, Gundersen described the state economic development mechanism as one that used to favor New York City at the expense of upstate communities, and he said restructuring that mechanism can make it easier for upstate urban areas like Jamestown and Dunkirk to turn the tide on economic stagnation.

''There wasn't enough advocacy done on behalf of upstate,'' said Gundersen, who Spitzer appointed to co-chair the New York City-based Empire State Development Corporation.

The agency used to be chaired by one individual, but Spitzer split that position into two — one for Upstate New York and the other for New York City. Along with the other co-chairman, Patrick Foye, Gundersen has more than 350 employees at his disposal and he says he is ready to move as many as he needs to his headquarters in Buffalo.

''We are equals in all respects,'' Gundersen said of himself and Foye. ''It's our job to figure out what we need up here to be able to place the call and rattle the cage if we have to rattle the cage or transplant people to Buffalo if we need to do that to get the job done.''

Spitzer also appointed Gundersen to head the state Department of Economic Development, which is based in Albany and employs more than 250 people.

''You put all that together and we ought to be able to figure out what it's going to take. When you say you have a need, you can call Ken or you can call me to bring these resources to bear to make these things happen,'' Gundersen said, referring to his chief operating officer, Ken Schoetz, who has a cabin in Stow.

Gundersen's trip to Jamestown followed seven weeks he spent traveling throughout Upstate New York. He says after speaking with local officials in communities from Chautauqua Lake to the Hudson River, he has learned there is a wealth of opportunity in Upstate New York that sometimes needs only a phone call to tap into.

''Often times, all it takes is a little bit of encouragement,'' Gundersen said. ''Maybe there are plans and strategic development initiatives that have been under way, and they just need a little bit of encouragement — sometimes a shove, sometimes a push or pull — from Albany or from elsewhere.

If I can do a little of that, I'd be more than happy to be part of your team.''

Gundersen also described the need to shift the state's economic development mechanism toward small businesses and make it more responsive to entrepreneurs.

''Our programs were designed years ago. The economy has changed. The local communities have changed. We don't have enough programs to support small businesses and entrepreneurial development,'' Gundersen said.

He was also critical of the federal Small Business Administration, which operates Small Business Development Centers throughout the nation, describing some of these centers as unresponsive.

''In some areas of New York state, (Small Business Development Centers) have not been as responsive as they need to be,'' Gundersen said. ''We need to have our resources in Albany aligned a little bit better with the needs of our businesses today.''

Aside from making economic development programs more responsive, Gundersen did not list specific strategies — but he spoke in broad terms of a shift in thinking in Albany that he believes will one day translate into better policies and programs across the state.

''Before this, all major decisions would go to New York City or to Albany,'' Gundersen said. ''What we have done already in the last few weeks is tell all the regional offices: 'No.' You turn westward. You look to Buffalo. You look to Upstate.''
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