Mark Bowers

Economic Development: Does It Add Up?

Maybe it’s me, but it just doesn’t add up.  What I’m referring to is our Regional Economic Development Council (REDC).  I was never good at math, but I can do arithmetic. In the 2017 Progress Report for our REDC (Pg. #20) there are two tables.  Using these tables I found the following: In the six years between 2011 and 2016 we committed $276,028,945 of State funding. Based on this investment, we created 2,219 jobs.  If I simply divide the number of jobs created by the dollars invested, that is $124,393.40 per job.

If I look at this differently, these tables also show how these State dollars leveraged private investment.  These leveraged funds generated 460 projects totaling $1.444 billion.  It also quantifies the number of jobs retained by these investments (16,077).    So the total number of jobs created and retained is 18,296. This arithmetic ($1.444 billion divided by 18,296 jobs) yields a cost per job of $78,847.56. Does that seem high to you?  It does to me!

Now here is my problem.  In a recent needs assessment commissioned by the Community Foundation of South Central NY (Oct. 2015) and prepared by Horn Research LLC revealed the following: Of the five counties surveyed (Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Tioga) Broome County had the highest number of people living in poverty 17.4%. This is an increase from 2000, when it was 12.8%. It is worth noting that the Statewide Poverty Rate is 15.6% and the National Poverty Rate in 2016 was 12.7% (US Census Bureau).  Of those living in poverty, children are the largest affected population. In Broome Co. 25.3% of children (under 18) live in poverty.  This is an increase from 2000 when the number was 15.9%. Coupled with this, pockets of high childhood poverty exist. In the City of Binghamton 47.3% of our children live in poverty.

Now, if we consider those living above the poverty level, but not making anything near the “Household Survival Budget” (United Way) the picture is even bleaker.  United Way has coined a new acronym, ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).  These are folks who make more than the US Poverty Level ($11,670 for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four).  The Household Survival Budget reflects a need of $19,380 for individuals and $56,964 for a family of four.  In Broome County these ALICE individuals represent 26% of our population. So if we combine those living in poverty (17.4%) and the ALICE population (26%) approximately 43% of Broome Co. residents are struggling to survive.

We need jobs!  We need gainful and meaningful employment.  To achieve this we need a real dialogue among all concerned stakeholders.  This would be similar to the recent collaborative efforts to address our Opiod crisis.  We need a new approach to how we do economic development, including who should be at the table.  Clearly the numbers do not add up!

by Mark D. Bowers


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A Bad Idea Part II Metro Center Parking

A Bad Idea Part IIA Guest Viewpoint was recently published in this space regarding the questionable conversion of the MetroCenter Plaza in downtown Binghamton into a ten space parking lot, at what amounts to about $35,000 a space.  Much has happened since that initial piece.

Members of the Commission on Architecture and Urban Design (CAUD) were the first to raise concerns about this project.  Other concerned citizens also raised meaningful points and voiced these in person at City Council Meetings.  As a member of the City’s Planning Commission at the time, I also voiced my concerns. We were all told by the Administration that CAUD approval was not needed, that our claims were inaccurate and untrue.  Good citizens raising questions were told Traffic Board review and approval was not needed, that our concerns were inaccurate and untrue.  Taxpayers watching the city’s spending habits were told that the Mayor could use unspent Bond Funds from another Capital projects without any other approvals, that our objections were inaccurate and untrue.  We were told that the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was not applicable, that our concerns were inaccurate and untrue.

How time changes circumstances.  Since these concerns were raised, the Administration has now engaged CAUD, sought approval from the City’s Traffic Board, acknowledged the need for new bonding authority to fund this project and committed to compliance with SEQRA.  All of this begs the question, what was the Administration trying to do before these issues were raised?

I think the answer is pretty clear.  The goal was to circumvent the existing process, those checks and balances that are in place to ensure good governance, and deliver a quality project that benefits the public’s interest.  This was an attempt by the Administration to force this project through the process hoping no one would notice.  The ultimate goal of the project the benefit of a select few at the expense of the many.

So what can we say to this?  At the February 18th City Council meeting, Council members will have to decide whether to borrow the funds and ultimately build the project.  Is spending $350,000 of our tax dollars a good investment for ten parking spaces?  If we are going to bond, and borrow from our future, shouldn’t it benefit more of our citizens?

A colleague pointed out to me in an e-mail that it took three years of strong advocacy to get $25,000 invested in the ball park and bathhouse at Columbus Park. West End Park will get tens of thousands of dollars in investments this coming year, but largely because of a state grant. It took eight years to reach agreement to borrow $100,000 to tear down the First Ward Pool. Through the Design Your Own Park, resident groups on the North Side and West Side worked tirelessly for a few years to get $20,000 in public investments in new park spaces.

Neighborhood parks are used by thousands of our city's families, kids, and individuals every year! Is Council really going to approve borrowing $350,000 to build a ten space parking lot in the heart of our downtown, two blocks from the City’s three parking ramps, all of which are in dire need of repair?

Obviously if the City is to borrow there are better uses that will have a broader impact on our citizens and help build community.  We all, as citizens need to be paying more attention to what goes on in City government.  Go to the City’s website, review City Council, Planning Commission, and Zoning Board agendas and minutes.  Even better, reach out to your Council representative before the February 18th meeting and tell them to think twice about spending so much money to convert the MetroCenter public courtyard into a ten-space parking lot. Tell them to say no to “David’s Dead End.”

Good government needs you!

Mark D. Bowers is a resident of Binghamton’s West Side

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