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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 11, 2005

When it comes to Tech Valley, planning is as important as promotion

Our county executive, Michael Breslin, has pledged taxpayers’ money for Advancing Tech Valley, a fund created by the Center of Economic Growth and the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce. He’s promised a half-dollar per resident.

That’s roughly $150,000, and Breslin has further suggested that each municipality in the county do the same.

We’re heartened that some of our local leaders are skeptical about contributing.

Kenneth Runion, the supervisor of suburban Guilderland, doesn’t see any benefit for the town in return for the investment — $17,000 for 34,000 residents.

Guilderland is a place where residents have already turned out in force to reject the notion that bigger is always better. When Crossgates Mall — the biggest mall in the region — planned a major expansion, a large grassroots group spoke out loudly and successfully against the plan, which never materialized.

Last week, Runion told our reporter Matt Cook, "The problem that I see is we all talk about Tech Valley and we don’t have a good handle on the problems there could be. We have a tendency to jump into this without really analyzing the impact and repercussions."

Runion points out that all the technology work going on at the University at Albany, part of which is in the Guilderland hamlet of McKownville, is tax exempt, meaning no revenue for the town.

Runion also said that Guilderland doesn’t have the water resources and infrastructure in place to attract high-tech firms.

Neither do the other towns we cover — the four rural Hilltowns, and New Scotland, a once-rural town in the process of becoming suburban.

Those promoting the Advancing Tech Valley campaign have no qualms about the project. They are convinced Tech Valley will be a panacea for the region.

"Everyone is going to benefit somehow," said Curt Reph, campaign coordinator for the Center for Economic Growth.

We wonder how local schools, for example, will benefit if they are burdened with a sudden influx of students. The cost of education far outweighs the amount new residents pay in school taxes.

Lyn Taylor, president of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, is excited about more jobs coming to the region.

Will those jobs go to locals or to highly-trained, newly-recruited professionals" Joseph Golden, a councilman in rural Berne, said, "I think it’s a jobs program for people who wear suits and go from meeting to meeting and talk about where they’re going to get their next job."

There was excitement decades ago about more local jobs when the United States Army opened a depot in Voorheesville; now we’re left with the contaminants and toxins, most of which the government says it can’t afford to clean up.

General Electric is one of the big contributors to the Advancing Tech Valley fund. There was excitement in past decades about the jobs GE brought to the area; now there is widespread concern and controversy over the toxic PCB’s that company left behind in the Hudson River.

Local government leaders are right to make sure their residents and regions are protected. Big business — even high-tech business — is driven by the bottom line: profit.

We might be more enthused about the Advance Tech Valley campaign if the money were to be spent on planning rather than promotion.

Organizers hope to raise $11 million over the next five years — donors like General Electric and Niagara Mohawk have already contributed $5 million.

More than half of the money is to be spent on marketing. The rest is to be spent on business growth, business climate, and workforce recruitment and retention.

In the last year, we’ve written about two major reports that have indicated our region is in grave need of better planning. The Open Space Institute in February warned that sprawl in the Capital Region is out of control.

When suburbia sprawls across open space and farmland, wildlife and wetlands are lost; the quality and supply of drinking water decreases; traffic congestion, air pollution, and energy consumption all increase; and so do local taxes.

In short, the quality of life diminishes not just for us, but for future generations as well.

The Open Space Institute places the blame for sprawl on municipalities, chalking it up to poor planning.

In April, we covered a session where supervisors from Guilderland, New Scotland, Berne, Bethlehem, and Colonie shared planning ideas and their goals for smart growth. Despite the towns’ differences, many of the supervisors’ comments were the same — that planning is difficult, but key to protecting the future of Albany County.

There was some discussion of the towns’ need to work together, but no mechanism is in place to do so.

In May, David Rusk, one of America’s leading experts on urban development, issued a report that blamed antiquated state laws for the increasing economic disparity between cities and suburbs in upstate New York. The laws, he said, spread power over 1,545 cities, towns, and villages without unified regional planning.

We need an overarching organization that will work with the existing municipalities to plan for a healthy future. Tech Valley, as envisioned by those promoting it, would extend the entire length of the Hudson Valley, stretching along the eastern border of the state from Orange County to Canada, with the Capital Region as the epicenter.

The supervisor in Berne, Kevin Crosier, said that Tech Valley, if planned correctly, could bolster a rural economy based on farming, recreation, and small locally-owned businesses, making it a destination for day-trippers. However, if done without proper planning, uncontrolled sprawl could ruin the Hilltowns as a natural area, he said.

Crosier said the Hilltowns should support Tech Valley only if part of the effort is to preserve open space and the rural economy.

If there’s a rising tide of economic growth sweeping through Tech Valley, some of the wealth could be used to improve city schools and stem the urban exodus.

What a perfect opportunity to link this area not just in recruiting high-tech business but in good regional planning practices.

Why not spend a sizable chunk of the $11 million on planning" Maybe then municipalities like Guilderland and Berne would have a reason to join in — not just with taxpayers’ dollars but also with the knowledge and commitment it would take to hammer out a workable and responsible regional plan for growth.

The Advancing Tech Valley fund is business driven, so it’s unlikely its organizers will change course. But county government, like local and state government, should be driven by the best interests of residents. Rather than pledging money for promotion of business, the county executive should be spearheading a movement for planning. The state legislature should get involved, too, because, as we’ve written here before, the region is larger than the county.

In the Capital Region, the cities of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, and the towns that surround them, face issues that are inter-related; when it comes to planning, they are completely unrelated, though, and, at times, are even unaware of each other’s problems and approaches.

What is needed is a regional planning body with teeth. Let’s get to work on that before we ruin the very resources that make our area attractive.

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