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Consensus needed to secure more economic development funding, says Rob Simpson

Ryan Delaney
WRVO file photo

There’s a big chunk of state funding on the table for investment in upstate New York’s communities and not surprising, there are a lot of opinions for what the funds should be spent on.

Rob Simpson is in charge of CenterState CEO. His organization represents 2,000 regional businesses. In the role, he’s close with both New York’s governor and local leaders.

Syracuse’s mayor, Stephanie Miner, has been working with state and federal lawmakers in hopes of garnering financial assistance to upgrade the city’s aging and frequently failing infrastructure. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown no interest in helping Syracuse lay new pipes and patch potholes.

Simpson chooses to stay out of the disagreement, but he does say there is some merit to the governor’s argument that economic growth is a necessity.

"There is a fundamental reality, however, that we have to have a growing, functioning economy in order for people to have jobs, for government to have revenue," he said in an interview with WRVO.

Simpson says there are several keys to growing an economy. They include human capital, growing industry and a good environment for civic decisions. "What I would suggest is that I think there are many competing priorities for not just the city, but the entire community. And a process has to look at all of those priorities," said Simpson.

He says infrastructure is on that list too.

Syracuse will likely have a chance to compete for $500 million in state aid for economic development projects. Simpson will have a lot of say over that application. The competition is in response to calls from upstate communities that they want investment similar to the billion dollars Cuomo sent to Buffalo since taking office.

"What we have lacked over the course of the last several years, is the scale of investment that’s been made in Buffalo to take some of these big ideas and take them to scale," he said.

Simpson says important to him is the city’s high poverty rates. A third of overall residents and half of children in Syracuse are poor. "We have to acknowledge that that is a real and pressing concern. And we have to ensure that as we build and grow economy, we’re doing it in ways that provide access points to people who need employment."

Simpson says central New York needs to decide what it wants to be as a community and sell that vision to the state in order to bring back funding.