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Economic plan has familiar focus


The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council has released a draft of its application for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the state program where seven Upstate regions are competing for one of three $500 million awards. And the key themes ought to sound very familiar.

The draft application focuses on three major industry areas: optics, photonics, and imaging; agriculture and food production; and next-generation manufacturing and technology. These industries were chosen as the application's foundation because they are already established here and they show substantial growth potential, says the draft. The council is now accepting public comments on the draft, which is available at It has to submit the final application to the state by October 5.

"Don't think it's all done," council co-chair Danny Wegman told FLREDC members last week. "In some ways it's just a beginning."

The draft lays out why the industries show potential, and identifies some strategies the region would use to help them grow. Expanding business incubators and accelerators, providing growing businesses with greater access to capital, and boosting university research are all part of the plan. And in many cases, those approaches will be tailored to specific industries.

The plan also ties into the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Task Force, and emphasizes job training, boosting high school graduation rates, and increasing the college-readiness of high school students.

Optics, photonics, and imaging is a logical area for the plan to focus on, given the recent announcement that a federal integrated photonics manufacturing institute will be based in Rochester. The region already has more than 100 photonics-related companies, while UR and RIT conduct vast amounts of research tied to the field.

The regional council believes it can use URI funding to build on all of that activity. For example, it proposes investing URI funding in shared facilities and equipment that researchers and companies can use, says the draft. And it wants to use some of the award money to make sure that small photonics companies can buy equipment they need to grow.

For next-generation manufacturing, the focus is on three hubs: Eastman Business Park; Rochester's Downtown Innovation Zone, which is centered around the Sibley building and RIT's Center for Urban Entrepreneurship; and the Science, Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing Park in Genesee County. But the only specific URI investment mentioned for those sites is a plan to further build out an energy storage technology commercialization center at Eastman Business Park.

The Finger Lakes region is responsible for one-quarter of the state's agricultural output, and it has the highest output of any single region in the state. Those products include everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to yogurt to world-renowned wines. And the sector could grow further with investment that spurs collaboration between producers, leads to better marketing of the region's wine trails, and provides training and transportation opportunities for workers, the draft says.