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Questions About 'Buffalo Billion'

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Investigative Post
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The Buffalo Billion Investment Development Plan was developed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development at the request of Governor Andrew Cuomo. But a Buffalo-area news outlet alleges the initiative is burdened by favoritism and lack of transparency.

The Buffalo-based non-profit Investigative Post brands itself as "the only local news organization dedicated exclusively to watchdog journalism." A recent article also published in various outlets including the Albany Times Union drew eyeballs from across upstate.

Editor and executive director Jim Heaney explains the "Buffalo Billion" is Governor Cuomo's attempt to bolster the region’s economy, using a model comparable to what has been used in the Capital Region over the last 20 years to develop the nanotech sector. "Instead of the state giving a subsidy directly to companies, the state instead builds and equips facilities, then leases to major companies in the hopes they will then attract smaller companies. The concept is kinda like a shopping mall. You get a couple of anchor tenants and then smaller tenants come."

Heaney cites three major projects being funded along with a dozen other initiatives. "The biggest one of all is a 750-million dollar construction and equipping of a plant for a solar panel manufacturer near the Buffalo waterfront. The project is about halfway through completion."

Heaney notes the development company, Solar City, lost a third of a billion dollars last year and is on pace to lose more than that this year. "Alain Kaloyeros, the so-called nanotech guru  in Albany, has been charged with overseeing the buffalo Billion, or at least these three major projects, and they've been very slow to release any kind of documentation relating to the selection of developers or payments to developers. Kalyeros has a non-profit called Fort Schuyler Management Corporation; they are basically managing the construction of the Buffalo Billion projects, funded by Empire State Development. Both Kaloyeros through Fort Schuyler and the governor through Empire State Development Corporation have been very, very slow to release documentation."

The Investigative Post has raised questions about the selection of the developer and the volatility of the solar panel industry, along with what Heaney calls a "troubling lack of transparency" considering the amount of money involved.  "The company is owned by one of the governor's largest campaign contributors in the area. The request for proposal as originally drafted for the solar plant project was written in such a way that it appeared that only this one company was eligible to respond."

The qualifications were later revised, but Heaney still sees the lack of transparency and the ability  to obtain information as tough nuts to crack.

Calls and emails seeking comment from SUNY Poly were not returned.  Jason Conwall, spokesman for Empire State Development, responded by email, stating "The facts speak for themselves: Governor Cuomo's unprecedented commitment has achieved great success in Western New York. Construction jobs in Buffalo and Western New York are at their highest level since 1990, while hiring for professional and business sector jobs is at a 24-year high and earlier today we learned the region's unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3 percent - which is the lowest May rate for the region since 2007 - down from 6 percent only one year ago. In fact, the Buffalo Billion has been such a huge success that it now serves as the model for revitalizing regional economies across Upstate New York.”

Here’s the link to the original story:

https://www.investigativepost.org/2015/06/22/shenanigans-beset-buffalo-billion/

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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