Economic meeting packed to capacity
blog by The Buffalo State Record • September 26, 2011 @ 11:29pm
The Burchfield Penney Art Center’s auditorium was packed beyond capacity last Wednesday night for the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council’s forum on developing a five-year economic plan for New York State.
The interactive forum served as a springboard for numerous ideas, all based on creating economic growth in New York State. Clicker technology, similar to the ones used in some Buffalo State classrooms, allowed participants to vote on specific topics, from “most useful” to “not useful / possibly hurtful.” Participants were also encouraged to voice ideas, which were written down on poster board.
The forum was also presented in Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.
Because of the capacity of the crowd, numerous people were turned away, including those who had registered for the event online, leaving some angry. A second event is being scheduled to accommodate those turned away, said Angela P. Berti, a member of the Regional Council staff. Attendance at the event far exceeded expectations.
“The turnout is stupendous,” she said. “It speaks to the passion of the community to have something better.”
Ideas ranged from strategic planning on manufacturing to strategic planning on tourism in the area. A recurring theme throughout the event was education and trying to keep young people and college graduates in the area.
“I think it’s very important to invest in higher education and make Western New York a destination for talent,” said Adair Saviola, director of development at the Buffalo Zoo. “I think the next piece of that is ‘What can we do to keep that talent here?’”
“It’s something that needs to be worked on,” said forum moderator Robert G. Shibley, director of the Urban Design Project of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo.
“Something about what we’re currently doing doesn’t seem to be working in terms of retention,” he said.
While the forum was mostly civil, the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking, did create some tension in the auditorium. While speaking about agriculture and tourism, Rita Yelda, from Western New York Drilling Defense, had a question for the forum.
“My question is: Why is the governor willing to put these important industries at risk by permitting hydro-fracturing?” she said, to a mixed chorus of boos and cheers.
Most people were pleased with the forum, Berti said.
“Everyone has said it’s been really interesting,” she said. “They’re intrigued by the format. It’s different than most public meetings.”
Executive director of Buffalo Car Share Creighton Randall came to the forum interested in some of the ideas New York State is coming up with. The forum was useful, he said, but he hopes the ideas presented are taken seriously.
“It was an interesting mix of opinions,” he said. “I’d like to see the direct outcome of the information presented here.”
The ideas and information collected at the meeting will be available, Berti said.
“All of the meetings will be documented online.”
Suggestions and feedback are still being accepted online, through email, mail and voicemail, Berti said. Students interested in providing suggestions can go to www.nyworks.ny.gov/content/western-new-york.
Buffalo State Record Associate News Editor