It has been reported that Government Action Professionals, one of three lobbying firms in the running to become Niagara County’s main advocate for state and federal funds, counts as part of its staff former Erie County Deputy Executive Carl Calabrese and former City of Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello.

What may not be widely known is that GAP’s list of clients has included several recognizable Western New York entities, including the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the Buffalo Niagara Builders Association, Kaleida Health and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

A check of the state’s Board of Elections Web site shows the lobbying firm has donated $25,674 to political campaigns since 2005. The funds were distributed to both Republican and Democratic candidates. Notable names on the list include current Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, state Sen. George Maziarz and state Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte.

The company’s Web site suggests that the company specializes in issues related to infrastructure protection and homeland security, noting that Calabrese helped spearhead Erie County’s homeland security program and his partner in the firm, Marina Woolcock, was once oversaw homeland security in Erie County.

GAP is one of three firms under consideration to become Niagara County’s lobbyist. They will be evaluated by County Manager Gregory Lewis and members of a legislative committee along with the other two companies that have submitted proposals — Bolton-St.John’s of New York City and Capital Public Strategies, LLC of Albany.

Down to business

Never let it be said that Niagara County doesn’t try to encourage business development.

Sitting through a session on small business development sponsored by the county’s Center for Economic Development this week, I realized that there are a lot of services available to people who are interested in going into business for themselves.

The Small Business Development Center at Niagara County Community College will basically help you develop a business plan free of charge.

The county has a statistical data base available to help fill in the necessary facts and figures.

There are special programs for minority and women business owners.

The county, state and federal governments all offer various incentives, from tax breaks to low-interest loans to grants to allocations of cheap electricity.

Of course, each application is different and not everyone can qualify for everything.

It is available though.

All of it got me to thinking about the condition of places like Niagara Falls where there are seemingly as many if not more empty store fronts as there are filled ones.

Michael Casale, the county’s director of business development, said he thinks part of the reason has to do with a lack of understanding about what exactly is available. Another part, he said, has to do with the level of risk people assume when they go into business for themselves.

Of course, credit worthiness is a factor as well. As every speaker noted during the presentation, the importance of having a private lender on your side cannot be underestimated. Loans are tough to come by right now, given the current economic conditions.

Like I said, there are incentives galore.

If you have a an idea and think you’ve got what it takes to make it happen or if you are an existing business owner who needs some help, contact the county’s economic development office at 278-8760.

What could it hurt?

Let the sun shine in

I haven’t had a chance to check it out myself yet, but the Empire Center for New York State Policy has updated its government transparency Web site to include new information about contracts for school district superintendents and teachers.

The site’s searchable public payroll database offers the names, titles and salaries of more than 800,000 government employees. The Empire Center added 2008 payrolls for the Central Islip, East Islip, Nyack and Syracuse school districts and plans to add the same information for the remaining school districts soon.

The Empire Center has also added a SeeThroughNY Forum, a social networking tool that enables users to share, analyze and compare data from counties, cities, town, villages, school districts and public authorities throughout New York.  

“This forum will provide the taxpayer, public employee, student and public official an avenue to voice their opinions and observations,” said Tim Hoefer, the Empire Center’s communication director and coordinator of the transparency Web site. “The discussions on this forum will help set the direction of New York’s governments fiscal policies moving forward.”

The center’s Web site can be found at

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