ITHACA, N.Y. — Three Tompkins County projects that would help boost economic development are seeking state grant dollars, according to materials uploaded to the state’s economic development website. Two of the projects are seeking funds to add needed childcare options to the area.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state’s regional economic development initiative solicits applications for new economic projects and requests “progress reports” on already-funded projects; each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are awarded. The initiative has drawn both praise for enhancing economic growth and forcing regions to come up with plans to create stronger economies, and criticism for being gimmicky and accusation of government overreach. Funded projects can be anything from job creation to public infrastructure and arts and cultural projects.

In 2018, Tompkins County received $4.4 million in funding for 19 projects, though only one of the three local “priority projects” identified in the application, an expansion of the Ithaca Community Childcare Center on Warren Road, was substantially funded. The expansion, which was awarded $790,000 by New York State, recently received site plan approval from the Town of Ithaca Planning Board and is moving forward.

According to the STREDC, most economic development projects in Tompkins County that have received funds are complete or moving along on schedule. A proposal for a business incubator in Cornell’s vacated Ward Hall is “progressing more slowly than anticipated”, and “project concerns need to be resolved” for an expansion of the Ithaca Beer Company.

This year, 26 “priority projects” were identified in the Southern Tier. These are proposals that the regional committee of business, government and non-profit leaders selects as being the most important considerations for state dollars. Of the 29, three are located in Tompkins County.

The first on the list is the expansion of the Coddington Road Community Center in the Town of Ithaca.

Unlike in previous years, there is no specific amount requested for the $3.7 million project. The STREDC is seeking funds on behalf of the CRCC to fund the construction of four permanent classrooms and a full-size gym, which will add an additional 54 childcare and 20 afterschool slots.

Childcare facilities are considered a major workforce obstacle in Tompkins County. Rather than ask for direct funds toward a business expansion, the STREDC is hoping that by addressing the indirect issues that keep businesses from retaining workers and growing here, it can create a more robust economy by tackling those underlying problems.

“As reported by the local childcare resource and referral agency, Tompkins County is currently and consistently experiencing a shortage of childcare, lacking up to 60% of the known (childcare) need. Employers have difficulty attracting new employees to the region and lose qualified staff when there is a shortage of childcare. Our expansion will both create new jobs and support the area business community with attracting and retaining their workforce,” wrote the CRCC in their application to the STREDC.

It’s this lack of affordable and accessible childcare options that led Tompkins Cortland Community College to build the Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center, which opened on its Dryden campus earlier this year. While the facility nearly tripled the college’s childcare capacity to 80 children, it also quickly filled up to capacity. Similarly, the Harriet Gianellis Childcare Center was launched by Tompkins Community Action at their Spencer Road property to offer additional affordable childcare options. Meanwhile, the Ithacare expansion will serve 60 to 80 children between the ages of five and 10 years old.

Image courtesy of the YMCA of Ithaca and Tompkins County.

A second priority project for Tompkins County will also boost childcare services. The YMCA of Ithaca and Tompkins County, located in the Village of Lansing next to the Ithaca Mall, is planning a capital campaign that would provide the financing to expand childcare services, by renovating and expanding their current facility to triple their childcare capacity for YMCA members and the greater community.

Renovations would include the relocation of the existing childcare to a new childcare center within the facility, enhancing security and service efficiencies. The total project cost is estimated at $5.9 million.

The last priority project is a little more traditional in nature, though vaguely worded. The “Global Competitiveness Through Automated Manufacturing” project is an application from Transonic Systems of the Town of Lansing. Transonic makes flow-measurement devices for medical applications, such as heart surgery and dialysis.

As stated, “Transonic will increase their global manufacturing competitiveness to meet a growing worldwide customer demand for low cost, disposable, high-quality surgical-grade instruments, by deploying innovative robotics technology and advanced manufacturing materials from NYS suppliers to reduce the complexity and expense of manual processes and scale our ability to produce consistently high-quality sensors and probes at up to 20 times the current rate.”

The project is listed as a $2.2 million total cost, and no job figures, retained or new, are included in the public report.

Meanwhile, outside of Tompkins County, Ithaca-based development firm Visum Development Group is seeking state support toward the $1.94 million renovation of the former Iszard’s department store at 150 N. Main St. in downtown Elmira into a mixed-use building with housing and ground-level retail.

The usual time frame for the Regional Economic Development Council awards suggests that official notice of any grant dollars will be posted after a big, formal ceremony in Albany in December. Generally, priority projects stand a better chance of full funding than regular applications, though it’s not a certainty, and even then they may only be only partially funded. Cargill received $2 million of the $5 million requested in 2016, and Cornell was awarded $1.5 million of the $2 million it sought for its CEPSI+ (Ward Hall) business incubator.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.