We are the champions.
The Central New York Regional Economic Development Council was one of three winners Thursday in the state's Upstate Revitalization Initiative competition. The region will receive $500 million over the next five years to fund projects and create an estimated 6,000 jobs in Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties.
In the first year, central New York was awarded $122.4 million for 93 projects.
Andrew Fish, executive director of the Cayuga Economic Development Agency and a member of the panel, said he was nervous while awaiting the announcement. He was in attendance for the regional economic development council awards ceremony in Albany.
Before central New York learned its fate, the Finger Lakes region, which includes Seneca and Wayne counties, and Southern Tier each won $500 million in the URI contest.
That left one more top URI prize. And there were five regions left, including central New York, that could claim it.
"I held my breath and it wasn't until (the emcee) said '(Central New York) is also a URI winner' that I let out a big sigh of relief and screamed with the rest of my colleagues and clapped," Fish said. "And then I shook for the next 20 minutes as I was responding to texts and sending messages."
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo first proposed the competition, which pitted seven upstate regions against each other, in his State of the State address earlier this year. After he negotiated with state legislative leaders, it was included in the 2015-16 state budget.
At Thursday's ceremony, he touted the benefits for the winning councils.
"This is the largest investment in upstate New York since the Erie Canal," he said of the $1.5 billion program.
Central New York spent months developing its plan to submit for review by a state assessment team. The blueprint focuses on six key areas, including establishing central New York as a global hub for drones and other unmanned systems.
The region wants to utilize controlled environment agriculture to address the growing demand for food worldwide, set up a global manufacturing and logistics hub and launch a national veterans resource complex to aid retired military service members.
Economic inclusion — reducing homelessness and poverty — and government modernization, including a plan to consolidate the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County, are also priorities.
Cayuga County will benefit from the influx of funding. One of the county's major URI projects is a controlled environment agriculture facility.
While the location is unknown — Fish said they are still in negotiations with the company — it's a $75 million project that will receive $7.5 million in support from the state. It's projected to create about 80 jobs.
Fish expects there will be more projects for the county as they implement the five-year plan.
"Our ability to capitalize from this is going to be dependent entirely upon our community stepping up and bringing forward the ideas and the projects that are going to be eligible to receive some of this money that's out there," he said.
"It's not like we can just take the money and throw it and suddenly we're going to grow more. There has to be something that leverages it. There has to be something that is going to back that up with a company making an investment and creating jobs."
One of the council's future projects is a visitors center for the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn and the town of Fleming. Fish said the funding will be provided in "some way, shape or form" for the site.
For central New York, it's the fourth time in five years the council has won a top prize at the annual ceremony. In the four previous rounds, the region, which is led by CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson and Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud, received more than $344 million to fund economic development projects.
With Thursday's win and the first year of URI funding, the panel has now secured $467 million for regional initiatives.
"We knew exactly what we needed to do," Simpson said. "We worked hard at putting a coalition together, put serious proposals in front of the state. We had partners like NASA and others. And I'm really proud of the fact we in central New York, quite literally, rose to the challenge."