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Economic development: Appropriate role for the Adirondack Park Agency

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 - Updated: 2:08 PM

Stephen M. Erman - For the Express

Over the past few weeks, there has been speculation and opinion offered by citizens and elected officials about an expanded economic development role for the Adirondack Park Agency. Before moving too far down this path, we should consider the strengths and limitations of the Park Agency and other state and local government organizations and regional not-for-profits with roles to play in economic improvement. The Park and its communities require and deserve effective economic development and other programs to support the creation and expansion of businesses that can thrive in this very special place. There must be a stronger focus on encouraging entrepreneurs, planning, and the ongoing protection of regional character and environmental quality.  

Since 1982, I have served on the Adirondack Park Agency’s senior staff as Special Assistant for Economic Affairs. I administered a well defined economic program in an agency with core functions of land use planning and the regulation of development. Before coming to the Adirondacks, I was a consultant in Washington, D.C. and learned the importance of building organizational capacity to create and implement workable economic development strategies. My experiences have given me a unique perspective on what is necessary for a stronger economic development agenda in the Adirondack Park.

The Agency’s economic development policy states, in part, that “The Agency will support the creation and retention of jobs within the region in ways that are consistent with its statutory responsibilities with the understanding that economic improvement and stability are vital parts of a collective effort to protect and enhance quality-of-life within the Park.” Within this context, the Agency supports the efforts of state and local economic developers in a manner which does not conflict with APA permitting and other statutory requirements. We correctly recognize that the Agency cannot identify and recruit specific business ventures because of inherent statutory conflicts of interest when projects need to obtain Agency permits.

My work at the Agency has involved substantial outreach to economic developers to explain how land use is regulated in the Park. Assistance has also been given to entrepreneurs seeking to adapt their project proposals to the physical limitations of their sites before applying for development permits. This pre-application guidance has been helpful in speeding up the permit process. My work as an ombudsman has helped reassure entrepreneurs that businesses are welcome in the Park and that, with proper attention to planning details, permits are predictably issued. I have also provided objective analyses of the economic and fiscal impacts of projects to the Agency staff and Board.

Implementation of an economic program at the Agency which does not conflict with its regulatory responsibilities is challenging but the effort has been important. Over time, there has been improved recognition of the relationship of our region’s special environment to the economic viability of Adirondack Park communities and the economic security of Park residents. There is also increased awareness that the Park is a place where businesses can be established and expanded, often with the help of Agency staff.  

The Agency has a workable approach for permitting “shovel ready” business parks so our region can provide the same incentive typically available beyond the Blue Line. Eight business parks have been permitted to date and two of these (Chesterfield and Moriah) are “shovel ready” so businesses require no further Agency permits.  

The Agency has also expedited development permits when this was critical for jobs and business retention, as was the case with a new plant for Old Adirondack, Inc. in the Town of Willsboro. And, of great importance, the Agency has helped strengthen the capacity of a range of not-for-profit organizations which are now able to work together on regional economic development planning.

I am convinced that there can be steady improvement in the economic vitality of the Adirondack Park but it will require better definitions of responsibility and increased coordination between state agencies, local governments and involved not-for-profits. We need to reduce competition and conflict. We must recognize and respect the distinct roles that are necessary in building a more diverse and robust economy without denigrating the environmental resource which has clearly given us a competitive advantage over many other regions of the United States.

Initially, three things are critically needed: First, the funding and empowerment of local governments and not-for-profit economic development organizations to conduct well focused and realistic economic planning: Second, increased focus by the NYS Department of Economic Development, the state’s lead development agency, on adapting its programs to better serve the needs of New York’s very rural places, including the Adirondack Park;  and, Third, the extensive use of the “Adirondack brand” to both market products made in the region and to advance destination tourism.   

The Adirondack Park Agency has planning resources, including a sophisticated geographic information system, which can be very helpful in supporting regional economic development initiatives. And, with additional staff, the Agency can more effectively assist communities throughout the Park in comprehensive planning necessary to encourage economic development.

The objectives of protecting the natural character of the Adirondack Park and significantly improving its economy are not mutually exclusive and the Adirondack Park Agency shares an interest in both. In my view, however, the Agency should not be the single organization — the “one stop shop” –- selected to plan and promote the economic future of the Park because of inherent conflicts with its regulatory mandate. The Agency can best affect the economic future of the Park and its diverse communities as a ready and able technical resource and by being knowledgeable about the full implications of Agency decisions.  

Additional planning capacity and closer coordination with state and local government will allow the Agency to serve a significant role in supporting other organizations which can lead regional economic development efforts in the future.  

Stephen M. Erman is Special Assistant for Economic Affairs at the Adirondack Park Agency.

     

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