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Building a better county involves everyone

The following is a guest column from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz:

This month I am traveling around Erie County holding Town Hall meetings with residents to hear their concerns and to introduce my administration’s new economic development plan, Initiatives for a Smart Economy 2.0: Focus on Inclusion. We released the 1.0 version of the Initiatives in June 2013, identifying 64 specific actions that Erie County would undertake to support economic growth in the region. These initiatives were deliberately aligned with other state and federal economic development efforts. Since that time, 32 of the original Initiatives have been fully implemented and 28 are nearing completion. We are holding meetings in Buffalo, Elma, Akron and Glenwood and have met with many local residents who are both concerned with what is happening in our country and also interested in learning how county economic development efforts are being tailored to “lift all boats.”

Many good things have happened since June 2013, the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.8 percent from 7.4 percent in June of 2013, NYS has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in clean technology at SolarCity at Riverbend and increased County investment in training our workforce has resulted in a more technologically adept workforce. Without any doubt, the components of a prosperous future are being assembled here in Erie County.

Despite these advances, however, more work needs to be done to close the opportunity divide that exists in income, education, criminal justice, neighborhoods and quality of life for some of the region’s residents. That opportunity divide is not an exclusively urban problem, as some would wrongfully characterize it, but also greatly impacts people living in the rural areas of Erie County. The issue of rural poverty is real and wide-ranging, for example, between 23.7 and 28.5 percent of individuals below the age of 65 living in the Towns of Brant, North Collins, Collins and the Cattaraugus Reservation receive public assistance like Medicaid.

The Initiatives 2.0, like the original initiatives, will identify those sectors of the regional economy Erie County can most influence but will further identify initiatives that specifically create shared opportunities for all Erie County residents – urban and rural and of every race and color – so everyone can benefit from the resurgence in the region. The goal of inclusivity is a major topic in the private, philanthropic and religious sectors as well as at multiple levels of government. Thus, it must be a central theme in any truly successful economic development strategy.

Organized using racial equity impact analysis, the Initiatives 2.0 will focus on economic sectors including advanced manufacturing, smart growth implementation, workforce development, agriculture, bi-national logistics, energy and tourism. Other identified Initiatives address quality of life areas as well as those focused on the “blue” economy and enhancement of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

Our county can only reach its full potential if all residents are as fully engaged as they can be. We will keep you updated as these new Initiatives bring more residents into the growing success of our community.

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