Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Buffalo Billion, the Utica Connection -- and NYS Secrecy . . .

As noted in an October post, the state is in the process of spending $750 million (of Our Money) to construct and equip a solar panel manufacturing facility in Buffalo for Solar City, a California company. The project furthers Governor Cuomo's plan to spend a $Billion (a/k/a "the Buffalo Billion)  to revive the economy of Western New York.

Jim Heaney, veteran investigative reporter and founder of the Investigative Post, intended to document how that large sum of money was being spent. Instead, he wound up writing an article entitled "Suppression of Buffalo Billion spending records," documenting the run-around he got from officials responsible for the project when he attempted to get information.

In addition to Alain Kaloyeros, new president of SUNY Poly, Utica readers may recognize the names Alicia Dicks and, perhaps, Fort Schuyler Management Corp. in Mr. Heaney's article.  Ms. Dicks is a local resident, director at Mohawk Valley EDGE, co-owner of Aqua Vino Restaurant, and was President of Fort Schuyler Management Corp. when, at about the time Mr. Heaney was researching his article, she was named CEO of the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Inc.  (FSMC is now looking for a new president).  Fort Schuyler Management Corporation was a Non-Profit created by the Albany NanoCollege (now SUNY Poly) for its economic development operations in Utica. The undeveloped western portion of SUNY Poly's Utica/Rome campus, which comprises 300 acres, has been ground leased to the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, which in turn, has subleased this property to Mohawk Valley EDGE for the development of the Marcy NanoCenter.

Fort Schuyler Management Corp., at some point, became a vehicle for fostering the governor's development agenda not only in the Utica area but elsewhere, including Buffalo -- which led to it becoming a focus in Mr. Heaney's article.  According to Mr. Heaney . . .
The Fort Schuyler Management Corp. contends it doesn’t have to abide by the Freedom of Information Law, a point disputed by the state’s open government director.
After describing contacts with other players in the governor's agenda (who are also involved in Utica area projects) Mr. Heaney noted:
I have never, in my nearly four decades as a reporter, encountered such heavy handed tactics to thwart the release of information.

FOI requests have not been honored.

Interview requests have gone unanswered.

Information casting the developer selection process in a favorable light was provided to another news outlet in an apparent attempt to head off the story you are reading now.

And Kaloyeros, who has not hidden his displeasure over my pursuit of documents, sent me an email last month in which he declared he does not “respond to perceived threats and terrorism.”
How does this matter?

Mr. Heaney's article suggests that the developer selection process could have been skewed to favor a large donor to Mr. Cuomo's campaign.  Another article by Mr. Heaney reveals that
The company that New York taxpayers are investing so heavily in has not been able to produce a profit for its shareholders.
The lack of transparency on the part of the State with the facts noted in Mr. Heaney's articles can lead to conclusions that (1) the economic development schemes are designed to funnel money to the politically connected and/or (2) the governor is recklessly gambling with our money hoping to hit a jackpot.

Perhaps these conclusions are erroneous, but government stonewalling does not encourage taxpayers to accept government conclusions on faith.

How does this matter locally?

The Utica area has had a long history of state officials making hyped-up promises that fell way short of expectations: The Center for Brownfield Studies, Griffiss Institute, and Homeland Security Training Center come immediately to mind.

The biggest promises have been Marcy NanoCenter and Nano Utica. Local funds (such as increased sewer rates) have been ponied up in support of these projects.

Marcy NanoCenter has been a project for perhaps a dozen years and, other than the jobs at EDGE itself to promote it, jobs have yet to be created.  Telling is its total absence from the Fort Schuyler Management Corp.'s website (as of posting today) even though FSMC is supposedly involved. The site, rather, has small pieces on Quad-C and a Syracuse project, but is dominated by Buffalo Billion information -- likely recently posted in response to Mr. Heaney's article. (Listen to his interview by Fred Dicker at about 36:00) .  Does the lack of information on Marcy NanoCenter suggest that it is not an important project for FSMC?

Although a gleaming, costly, building has been constructed (at taxpayer expense) for Nano Utica next to the SUNY Poly library, people were supposed to be working there last month. Where are they? The lack of activity has the folks on Utica Topix speculating in several threads that Quad-C is not going to be a manufacturing facility with 1500 jobs, but, rather, nothing more than an expensive academic building. The contradictory statements last summer regarding which companies were participating in Quad-C certainly bolstered the negative outlook.

TODAY in the OD we read: Major Quad-C expansion on the horizon. Now the cost of the building will rise from 125 to between 250 and 300 million dollars, and the potential workers will increase from 1500 to 2250. . . . with completion postponed until summer.  But this announcement comes after the building should have been completed and people should have been working.  The descriptive language also seems to have changed from emphasizing manufacturing to research. The lack of specificity in who will be participating is telling.

This is starting to sound too familiar -- like Griffiss Institute's "world class research facility" turning into little more than field trips and summer jobs for middle and high school students and some seminars.

Only time will tell whether Greater Utica will have its hoped-for economic transformation --  or whether highly-paid Economic Development Music Men  hucksters have taken advantage of our naivety - - - again.  Let us hope it is the former.

Seventy-Six Trombones, anyone?



Anonymous said...

This added scope along with the failure to deliver on the original promise of people working in quad c by the beginning of 2015 is indicative that there is not any major employer seeking to hire at the marcy site. I have participated in at least two of the events highlighting the "nanocenter" and have not once encountered an industry employer looking to hire in marcy. It seems that the only ones reaping any benefits from quad c are capital district based contractors.

Anonymous said...

It is clear that any expansion of the size and cost of the nano center should be based on the specifications of one or more end users and that these users should be identified to both justify the public expense and to dash local skepticism. Instead, we get total secrecy and more build it and they will come promises. Where is the private sector business? While we're at asking questions, where is the vaunted chip plant that had EDGE running around the world for over ten years? All we ever seem to get is the same insiders getting fat wallets and waistlines with taxpayer funded projects done in total secrecy. And, our politicians, including the Governor, create slogan after slogan, spend more money and accomplish not much. And, we wonder why we are economically depressed?

Anonymous said...

Our local Albany connected politicians(Brendisi, Griffo,Destito,Picente ) have totally swallowed the Cuomo kool-aid. They ask no questions and demand no answers from the naked Emperor in Albany. As long as the GRAVY TRAIN makes an occassional stop in the area and The Emperor graces us with his presence we must be content with the crumbs thrown our way.

Anonymous said...

Your reference to the Griffiss Institute is well taken and appropriate. After much ballyhoo and a small fortune of taxpayer dollars spent, what did it bring the area? Not much if anything. The political insiders got a huge slice of the taxpayer dollar pie. That is a often repeated pattern here. When it is all said and done, it will be interesting to see where the nano center dollars go including contractors and jobs. That is if we ever find out!

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is going to implode and then watch the economy really free fall. Everything around is being proper up with gimmicks and short term fixes. The truth about nano and other fake development will start the cascade to the true bottom. Watch the politician since they will know when to jump off with their pensions and kickbacks.

Anonymous said...

Yes it seems that the Friends & Family Plan is still alive & well in Oneida County & Albany. The well connected reap the rewards while the rest of us get hosed. Business as usual in Oneida County.

Anonymous said...

Elections have consequences. Post after post on this site and others note the poor performance and corruption of local government and politics yet the same incompetents are elected time after time. Let's face the ugly reality; the area is a combination of the third world and those who live off of government largess including the elite who milk the system for their own benefit.