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Archive for February 2nd, 2010

I spent the day in Albany advocating for the City of Amsterdam.

The morning and a good part of the afternoon were spent waiting to give testimony before the NYS Legislature 2010/2011 Joint Budget Committee. Today’s topic was Economic Development. As anxious as I was to speak, it was enlightening to listen to the many knowledgeable individuals that contributed to this critically important discussion. I shared the stage with speakers as varied as Dennis Mullen, Chairman of the Empire State Development Corp, Kenneth Adams, President of the NYS Business Council, Brian McMahon, Executive Director of the NYS Economic Development Council, and Dr. Alain Kayloyeros, Senior VP of the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering at the University of Albany. All told, there were 39 speakers.

After the hearing, I met with several members of the Assembly, including George Amedore and five members of the Hispanic Caucus, to thank them for their support for the City of Amsterdam as a prime location for the new State Data Center. There is $99.5M allocated for the project in this year’s budget. I will continue to tout our advantages, as a project of this magnitude would dramatically alter our fortunes for the better.

My testimony:

I’d like to thank the Chairmen and Committee for allowing me the opportunity to speak today on a topic that is so vitally important to everyone across the State of New York.

The topic, and our shared goal, is economic development. Our state, the nation and global markets are battling unrivaled economic difficulty and uncertainty. We must respond in this time of need with smart economic development policy and press forth towards financial stability utilizing every avenue along the road to prosperity, both legislatively and administratively.

I come to you to paint a picture of my small part of the world, the City of Amsterdam, New York. Much like other post-industrial cities that had sprouted up along the rivers and canals that cross our great state, Amsterdam has its share of majestic natural beauty, handsome Victorian architecture, and charming suburban neighborhoods. The truth be told, our blessings are numerous, as our city is extremely safe, our location is central to world-class cultural, recreational and educational venues, and we are an extraordinarily close and caring community. We celebrate the fact 17% of Amsterdam’s residents are Latino, which is the largest Hispanic community north of Westchester. We are proud of waves of immigrant populations that have called Amsterdam “home”, the Italians, the Polish, the Irish and Lithuanian, as we have been greatly enriched by this ethnic diversity.

That said, we struggle with a debilitated water distribution system throughout the city that is rife with leaks and damage and, in a couple of instances, has left us unable to locate a working fire hydrant at the time of crisis. The older neighborhoods are victim to creeping blight and vandalism. More and more of the financial burden is born by our residents, as businesses leave for what is perceived to be more fertile ground elsewhere. Unemployment statistics in our area hover around 10% and the school district is facing certain draconian cuts to operations that are bound to negatively affect the academic performance of our children. Our population is aging, young people are moving away, and our numbers have been in decline for decades.

We are at a point in our history where significant challenge must be met with intelligent action and resolve.

To this end, the City of Amsterdam has identified specific strategies in our Comprehensive Plan and made considerable progress in advancing our initiatives. Through our partnership with the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, we have developed a dynamic, new marketing campaign to elevate Amsterdam’s profile in the region and brand our image as warm, affordable and easily accessible. Restore New York grants and the Brownfield Opportunity Act are allowing us to creatively redevelop old mill sites and revamp our traffic systems. NYS Community Development Block Grants and a Main Street grant are breathing new life into our waterfront heritage area and downtown in the way of newly constructed streets, sidewalks, lighting, facades and parks. The NYS HOME Program has allowed for targeted rehabilitation of residences and we are partnering with our county to demolish debilitated structures in many of our aged neighborhoods. We are designing a vibrant, urban core for our people to visit, shop, work and live. In the near future, we will connect our north and south shores with a beautiful new pedestrian bridge that will inspire private investment in retail and commercial establishments along our main streets. These efforts are directly spurred on by the investment of public monies made available through the Departments of State and Transportation; Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Housing and Community Renewal; the Dormitory Authority; and Empire State Development.

It is this critically important infusion of public monies into our struggling economy that I stridently advocate for today. While understanding that your options on the Budget Committee are limited, that the decisions you make are exceedingly difficult and frequently unpopular, I encourage you to give the communities of Upstate NY the tools they need to reinvent themselves as attractive destinations for families, businesses and industry. Again, well-spent state dollars motivate the imagination of the private sector. The Empire Zone Program kept the building of a new Beechnut facility in Montgomery County and in turn, has lead to the updating of Amsterdam’s wastewater filtration systems and brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in water and utility fees to our coffers.

As Mayor of the City of Amsterdam, I look with particular interest at the proposed building of a new data center for the Office of Technology that has been allocated for in this year’s state budget. The location of a facility of this kind in the City of Amsterdam can undoubtedly provide jobs and economic assistance to this city, but more importantly light a spark of hope for the future that has long been absent. For years, we have watched hungrily as state resources were funneled to New York City, Albany, and the Northway corridor. I say to you now, that if these administration and legislative bodies are truly committed to the economic development of Upstate New York, you must fairly distribute funds north and west of the capital. Your actions this year can and will have dramatic and lasting effects. The impact of your decisions can and will be truly transformative.

My constituents and I are grateful to you for championing our interests and confronting the problems of today’s world with willingness, determination and fiscal intelligence. Thank you again for this opportunity to bring our concerns to your attention. Our faith and prayers are with you.

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