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The Business Page

Welcome to the business page, a blog where I'll take you behind the scenes of greater Rochester's fast-changing economy. My name is Ben Rand, and I intend to introduce you to some of the personalities, concepts and events that make news in business here. I've been a business reporter for eight years in Rochester and a journalist for 18, working in four states. I grew up in Pittsford, but moved away after college for about a decade. My wife and I live in Irondequoit with our two children.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Spitzer and the Upstate Economy

The folks at the Rochester Business Alliance may be pinching themselves following Gov. Eliot Spitzer's first week in office. The very first press release of Spitzer's term was an agenda for change aimed at improving the upstate economy.

The RBA and its partners in Buffalo and other parts of the state have been talking for a year about policy prescriptions designed to boost the region's economy. Their agenda, called Unshackle Upstate, parallels Spitzer's. It calls for reforming worker's compensation, health care and other areas to reduce the cost of business.

It also calls for decentralizing economic development funds to give local areas more control over their own destinies. Spitzer has indicated his intention to appoint an upstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development arm. Upstate officials have long complained at the the ESDC has a distinct downstate focus.

It's unclear at this writing who the upstate chairman will be. In a conversation this week, State Sen. Jim Alesi, R-Perinton, said he had discussed the job with Spitzer's administration, in a contact initiated by the new governor's team. But he said that unless something changes, he prefers to remain in the Republican-controlled Senate. Alesi told me he thinks that Spitzer is looking for someone with both legislative and business experience.

It's important to note that both Spitzer and the business community will face a challenge from organized labor, which has a different perspective on the policy prescriptions. For instance, unions and other activists believe the state should look closely at fraud by insurers in the worker's compensation system.

So it will make for an interesting couple of months.

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