Earlier this week, I joined New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in Rochester, where he previewed several new economic initiatives from his upcoming state-of-the-state and budget address. The announcements, including a sixth year of the state’s annual economic development funding competition and a $100 million “Downtown NY” revitalization initiative, build on a series of innovative initiatives, in partnership with the state’s regions, that lay the groundwork for long-term growth and opportunity.
In all transparency, I, along with other experts in our program, have advised New York on their economic strategies over the years, as we have in other states. That said, I can objectively say that Cuomo has set a high standard for state-regional partnerships in economic growth.
First, the state’s economic strategies are bold. With a long history of industrial decline and population loss in Upstate N.Y., coupled with a slow-growing U.S. economy, the governor recognized there was no room for the state to lead with tentativeness or small bore initiatives.
Through Regional Economic Development Councils implemented by the governor, regions have competed for state funds that total nearly $4 billion after five years. Four years ago, the governor made a $1 billion bet on the Buffalo economy, fueling the region’s revitalization. And last year, with the $1.5 billion Upstate Revitalization Fund, the governor expanded the Buffalo approach to three other Upstate economies.
And if the dollar figures aren’t stunning enough, Cuomo has been able to pass five on-time balanced budgets with his split-party legislature.
Second, these strategies are aligned with regions, the fundamental economic building blocks of the state’s key industries and university anchors. Local and regional leaders around the country often complain about their state government—programs are siloed, funding streams are fragmented, state priorities don’t match regional priorities, and the like. But in New York, the state empowers regions to plan, collaborate, and set a roadmap for economic transformation based on their unique assets and market opportunities. The state matches regional vision with meaningful, integrated resources, aligning ambitions of both.
Finally, the state and regions’ economic development efforts are rooted in what matters to long-term prosperity. Strategies focus on unleashing the productive capacities of existing firms and workers—rather than primarily recruiting assets from the outside—to deliver jobs, economic growth, and better wages. Investments target applied research and technology capabilities, such as photonics in Rochester, unmanned systems in Central New York, and biomedical genomics in Buffalo, plus workforce training, infrastructure modernization, and entrepreneurship.
The emphasis on these market assets—innovation, skills, infrastructure—has been matched with good civics—investments that reward data-driven planning (not political pet projects), strong regional trust and collaborations, and wide community engagement. These good governance practices ensure that economic strategies are well-designed, coordinated, and executed, and ultimately sustained beyond the initial state investment. Smart civic capacity also ensures that investments extend to more neighborhoods and people, helping to reduce spatial and racial disparities.
As we enter the season of state budget addresses, New York demonstrates that states can be powerful partners to cities and regions.