Through its first two years, the Mid-Hudson region was awarded $159 million through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council Awards, but only about $3 million of that came into Rockland.
Rockland is one of seven counties in the region, which is one of 10 regions in the state.
“We had the lowest number of application approval, but we also had the lowest number of applications presented,” said Al Samuels, president of the Rockland Business Association and a voter on the council.
To discuss Rockland’s lack of success in the awards so far, Legislator Ed Day called for a discussion about them at Wednesday’s meeting of the Rockland County Legislature’s Economic Development Committee.
“This is the second year in a row we have not faired that well,” he said.
“At a time where our county is trying to find all different ways of survival that there seems to be a potential for us to do things that might aid that without going to our local taxpayers. So I think it’s even more critical at this point.”
Samuels said it’s “damned embarrassing” to be a part of the council and see how poorly Rockland does. During the meeting, Samuels indicated a possible reason for Rockland’s low success rate is due to a lack of communication. He said it could be elected officials not getting the word out about the program, which gives out grants and tax incentives.
“Rockland doesn’t seem to have embraced this new concept,” he said. “We have not heard from elected officials, pronouncements to their constituents, no matter what the level of government is. There’s a new economic development paradigm in New York state, and we have great opportunity now to tap into this. There are new requirements, but guess what? We have people in Rockland who are part of the process.”
Last year, Rockland had 12 applicants, three of which were funded. For comparison, last year Westchester had 32 projects funded, Ulster County had 25, Orange County had 21, Dutchess County had 19, Sullivan County had 12 and Putnam County had eight.
In Rockland, Bon Secours Charity Health System got $500,000 to construct an office building to house a regional cancer center, medical reference lab and physician practice offices. The New Square Community Improvement Council was awarded $600,000 to construct a new building for a grocery store and the expansion of the major service organization for this distressed community. The Village of New Square got $750,000 to acquire vacant property to assist in the expansion of Hatzlacha Supermarket, Inc and a local nonprofit organization, SHARE of New Square.
Samuels noted that of the five towns in Rockland, all the money went to organizations in just one town, Ramapo.
“There has been comment that Ramapo has gotten the lion’s share of what Rockland has gotten,” he said. “It’s true, but you know what? The Hassidic community has seen the process, has said, ‘This is what we have to work with.’ They’ve embraced it and it’s working for them. The rest of Rockland has to do the same.”
Samuels said moving forward, he and Dr. Cliff Wood, president of Rockland Community College and a council member, will have to do more out in the community to get other areas involved. Still, he said, it’s not a coincidence Ramapo has been successful.
He also said he thinks that applicants in Rockland didn’t take advantage of he and Wood, who were willing to help with applications. He said of the 12 applications, two were for roofing issues that weren’t seen as emergencies and four were feasibility studies, meaning half were tossed out rather quickly.
“We had four feasibility studies out of the 12 applications. We’re not funding that,” Samuels said. “We’re not funding a study to determine if maybe there can be an economic development project somewhere down the road.”
Samuels said in the past he asked Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature Harriet Cornell to hold a summit on economic development, but there hasn’t been one yet. He asked again to hold one to get the word out. He also said Rockland elected officials need to show more support at council meetings and come out to show the council that Rockland is interested in the program.
Day agreed with Samuels and said this year that has to change.
“We have to get outside of this box we’re in where we’re here in the county and the towns are other things and the businesses and people are not part of it,” he said. “We’re in this together and this is where it’s going to start, because very clearly, what you’re charge is, your charge is bringing information to the county. We’ve got an administration, we’ve got a legislature. It’s our responsibility to move forward. We have not done that, collectively.”