By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls will play an important role in of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” plan, serving as an anchor for the region's tourism industry.
Cuomo stressed the importance of viewing Western New York as a region, and using all the assets of the Falls, the city of Buffalo and the Southern Tier to compliment one another while addressing a crowd of a few hundred business and community leaders gathered at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
“We are a region,” Cuomo said. “We are in the same boat. We rise or we fall and we do it together.”
Cuomo was in Western New York on Tuesday for his tour of the region, the eighth such trip he has taken to get a first-hand look at the progress of the regional economic councils he set up shortly after taking office in 2010.
The councils allow regions of the state to come up with their own economic development plans instead of having a sweeping plan coming out of Albany meant to work for the entire state.
“If you want to invest in a regional economy you need a vision that works for that region,” Cuomo said.
Mayor Paul Dyster spoke to the crowd on the tourism aspect of Western New York’s regional council’s plan.
He said that the under that plan, Niagara Falls will use its many tourist attractions — particularly activities like biking, fishing and cultural heritage tourism — to attract more visitors, in part by getting the word out about the many things there are to do in Niagara Falls.
“We’re going to develop a marketing and promotional strategy that will deliver the maximum bang for the buck,” Dyster said.
Niagara Falls will also have to continue fixing the mistakes of the “failed urban renewal effort of the 1960s and 70s” that left few amenities in downtown Niagara Falls, Dyster said.
“That’s a big problem, not only for the city of NiagaraFalls, but for the whole region because this is the place where people walking out of the park and crossing over from Canada get their first exposure, not only to the city of Niagara Falls, but to New York state and even in many cases to the United States of America,” Dyster said.
The mayor said that the city has started in the right direction with projects like the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, but that it needs to continue investing and building critical mass downtown.
“Niagara Falls is a very famous place,” Dyster said. “It can be either an anchor holding our region back or an engine pulling it forward. There is no middle path. We are determined to make Niagara Falls an engine not an anchor.”
Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president of Visit Buffalo Niagara, said that the tourism industry employs around 45,000 people in the region.
“While it’s true that entry level jobs in tourism are not the highest paying jobs in the sector they are jobs that put people back into the labor force with minimal training and no real capital investment,” Gallagher-Cohen said. “In cities like Buffalo and Niagara Falls where poverty is an issue that’s a really important asset that’s not to be overlooked.”
Gallagher-Cohen stressed that continued investments in infrastructure and assets of the region will help the tourism industry continue to produce revenues for the state.
“We really believe that the proper investments in Niagara Falls, New York coupled with our assets in Buffalo would give us a world-class destination where tourism would continue to have a major, major role here,” Gallagher-Cohen said.
Cuomo also reaffirmed his commitment to investing $1 billionin Western New York over the course of the next five years, despite having asked congress and President Barack Obama for $42 billion in federal disaster relief to help deal with the damage done downstate by Hurricane Sandy.
The governor announced that Albany Molecular Research Inc., a biomedical research firm, will locate a research center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo. The state will provide $50 million for research equipment and the company will invest $200 million of its money and is expected to hire 250 people.
Cuomo said that he is proud of his decision to invest $1 billion in the region.
“I’m not taking taxpayer money and spending it in Western New York,” Cuomo said. “I’m investing it in Western New York and we’re going to get dividends for the rest of the state.”