Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made his second regional State of the State address in Buffalo on Monday and announced his proposal for a $500 million expansion of the Buffalo Billion initiative to continue building on the renewed economic engines and reinvigorated civic spirit throughout Buffalo and the entire Western New York region.
"The first Buffalo Billion brought new life and new energy back to Western New York, and this investment will ensure the momentum continues," Cuomo said. "The second phase of the Buffalo Billion will build on the success of strategic initiatives that have already made dramatic improvements to the region's quality of life and create new economic opportunities for all Buffalonians. This is exactly the kind of transformation New York invests in, and these achievements will ensure that the Queen City is nothing short of world-class once again."
While the original Buffalo Billion created a dramatic shift in the direction of the region's economy, this second phase will focus on ensuring that all Western New Yorkers have an improved quality of life and a role to play in the new Buffalo. This will be accomplished through a number of new investments that will:
•Implement revitalization and smart growth efforts;
•Improve workforce development and job training;
•Grow advanced manufacturing, tourism and life sciences; and
•Connect communities and economic progress through rail expansion.
In 2012, Buffalo was reeling from a decades-long economic decline and uncertainty, chronically high unemployment, and the absence of effective partnership from state government in Albany. As part of his vision to restore the economic vitality of upstate New York, Cuomo began by securing an unprecedented investment for Western New York, including the "Buffalo Billion" initiative.
Today, the region is now on the rise and the Queen City has again become a global destination to live in and work. For the first time in generations, millennials are choosing to stay in Buffalo for jobs - currently the highest in Buffalo's history - and quality of life, where home and property values are the highest on record. Additionally, unemployment has fallen from more than 9 percent to around 5 percent, Canalside visitors and tourists have increased more than tenfold since 2010, new hotels are rising in Niagara Falls for the first time in over a decade, and Riverbend is rising on the ashes of Republic Steel.
Building on the success of the past five years, the time is right to
extend the Buffalo Billion transformation to the neighborhood level, the
governor said, and strengthen connections among downtown, suburban and
surrounding areas in a new economic future for the region. The second phase of
the Buffalo Billion will accomplish this through an approach that includes
funding through Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Council Awards process,
as well as:
Revitalization and Smart Growth Efforts:
•East Side Revitalization Initiative: Invest in targeted place-making improvements on key east side corridors - Fillmore, Jefferson, Michigan and Bailey Avenues - which will help leverage additional investment in key, historic assets such as the Central Terminal, MLK Park and the Broadway Market. Building on the Buffalo Billion's original $45 million investment in the Northland Corridor, phase II proposes an additional investment for further site acquisition, brownfield remediation and place-making to further secure Northland Corridor's future as a light manufacturing neighborhood.
•Main Street Revitalization Initiative: Buffalo Billion phase II proposes a transformative investment along 10 miles of Buffalo's central spine, Main Street, from the Outer Harbor, Inner Harbor and medical campus to the University at Buffalo's North Campus. Priority investments include: place-making and access at the Outer Harbor, as well as attracting a private developer to reimagine the long-vacant DL&W terminal.
•Connecting Economic Progress by Rail: Develop a new commuter rail and multimodal station in downtown Buffalo and completing Buffalo's light rail extension to University at Buffalo's North Campus will provide 20,000-plus students access to downtown Buffalo and the waterfront, as well as connect urban job seekers with suburban employment centers, helping Buffalo to deliver economic inclusion for all the region's workers. Additionally, a new train station will replace Buffalo's outdated Exchange Street station, which has been in need of repair for some time.
•Suburban Redevelopment/Bethlehem Steel: Bethlehem Steel represents the largest manufacturing/industrial land tract in a first-ring suburb. Phase II envisions acquiring up to an additional 250 acres of land to clear the way for future growth.
•Downtown Revitalization Initiative: Similar to 2016's downtown revitalization initiative, phase II would create a competitive grant program for place-making strategies to revitalize the downtown areas of suburban small cities, villages and towns in the greater Buffalo/Niagara area.
•The Buffalo Blueway: Create a network of expanded public access points to waterways and historic, cultural and natural assets to spur revitalization and tourism in the Buffalo/Niagara Region.
Encouraging Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Health & Life Science Sectors:
No element of the Buffalo Billion has done more to build the brand of the new Buffalo than 43 North, the world's largest business idea competition. Phase II of the Buffalo Billion proposes to double down on another five years of the competition, with enhanced mentorship and continued 43North equity participation.
New investment at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will support new and expanded incubator/accelerator/lab and maker space to continue to accommodate the region's growth of startups (up 105 percent since 2012), as well as investment in better-commercializing the intellectual property created at colleges and universities as part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. A strategic investment fund will also fuel public/private partnerships in life science.
The first phase of the Buffalo Billion helped leveraged more than $200 million of private investment in Niagara Falls, and phase II plans to build on that progress. New investments include the strategic acquisition of distressed lands adjacent to Niagara Falls State Park, and the restoration of architectural masterpieces by Frank Lloyd Wright will be completed to increase their attraction as a magnet for global tourism.
Developing Workforce and Advanced Manufacturing:
Buffalo Manufacturing Works, the Western New York Workforce Training Center for manufacturing and energy that was funded through the original Buffalo Billion, will go a long way toward serving the more than 130,000 underemployed individuals in the region, but phase II envisions investing with many workforce partners in the region to scale up efforts to address the underemployed population more comprehensively.
The facility will move from its temporary location to Northland, which will be transformed into a revitalized mixed-use neighborhood that includes light manufacturing and workforce training, as well as residential and retail locations. This is central to inclusive economic growth for the east side and the greater Buffalo/Niagara area. A strategic investment fund will also fuel public/private partnerships in advanced manufacturing, while a workforce development fund will help ensure Western New Yorkers are prepared for the jobs of the future.
Cuomo also noted a new legislative proposal to expand access to ridesharing services throughout New York. Currently, a number of ridesharing companies have successfully operated as livery services in New York City over the past several years. These companies, however, are not authorized to provide ridesharing anywhere else in the state.
"Ride sharing is bringing transportation into the 21st century and we are committed to ensuring that it becomes a reality statewide," Cuomo said. "It provides economic opportunity and a cost-effective alternative to transportation, and we must ensure that all residents outside of New York City have access to its benefits. This action will spur economic development across upstate and further position our upstate cities as cities of the 21st century."
The current limitations on the availability of ridesharing services has meant millions of New Yorkers are not only missing out on an alternative form of transportation, but thousands more are being prevented from pursuing new flexible job opportunities as rideshare drivers, the governor said.
Cuomo is fighting to correct this inequity by putting forth a proposal that expands the availability of this service to all New Yorkers by establishing a uniform statewide regulatory framework that will be overseen by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The proposal includes:
•DMV licensing and oversight of rideshare companies, including providing DMV with broad auditing powers to ensure uniformity in access for all New Yorkers, and compliance with all laws, rules and regulations;
•Establishing minimum standards for rideshare companies to vet their drivers, including requiring background checks, explicitly disqualifying people with certain convictions from driving to ensure rider safety, and requiring ongoing monitoring for traffic safety;
•Setting necessary consumer protections that ensure passengers receive information, such as driver identification, details of the car, and estimated fare, prior to engaging in a ride. Rideshare drivers must also display distinctive signs on their vehicles identifying the rideshare company they work for;
•Requiring rideshare companies and/or rideshare drivers to obtain and maintain insurance coverages that are double the current auto insurance limits in upstate New York, and have a limit of at least $1 million of coverage while a rideshare vehicle is on the way to pick up a passenger and while transporting a passenger;
•Establishing the first of its kind mechanism to provide rideshare drivers workers' compensation coverage by requiring participation in the Black Car Fund, which currently provides workers' compensation coverage for downstate taxi and livery drivers;
•Mandating rideshare companies adopt a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy and enacting common-sense requirements to ensure drivers are performing in the safest way possible for both drivers and riders. This includes requiring rideshare companies provide a mechanism for passengers to report complaints when they reasonably believe a driver to be under the influence;
•Applying antidiscrimination requirements to ensure no passenger is discriminated against on the basis of his or her race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or genetic predisposition, and are treated equally by rideshare companies and drivers; and
•Creating a task force to review, study and make recommendations regarding accessibility needs in the rideshare industry in an effort to protect and provide transportation to vulnerable populations.