Every spring, New York State lawmakers pass a budget from the upcoming year. This year’s budget, like the seven before it, included resources for the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process. The CFA is a streamlined application process for businesses, non-profits, schools, municipalities, and other organizations to access various types of grant and financing assistance. The CFA portal opened on May 1, so organizations can start working on their applications. Applications are due July 27 at 4pm, but I would not suggest waiting until the last minute to submit your application as the website can get jammed with heavy traffic. While I am going to focus on economic development funding for businesses below, webinars providing information about all of the grant and funding opportunities available through the CFA process are available here: https://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/webinars.  There will also be a public workshop detailing the various programs and the CFA process at Cayuga Community College’s Auburn campus on June 20 at 2 p.m.

For a little background, in 2011 Governor Cuomo established the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) of New York State.  This regional approach to economic development is a bottom-up, community-based strategy, which guides the State’s funding decisions.   Since no two regions are alike, each region has developed its own strategic plan for spurring investment and creating jobs.  Growing businesses that are expanding, making a significant capital investment and creating jobs would apply for incentives through the State’s Consolidated Funding Application (CFA).

Empire State Development (ESD) is New York’s economic development department.  One of their more popular incentives for businesses is the ESD Grant Funds program.  This grant has the ability to incentivize a business investment by offering funding, typically 10-20% of total eligible investments, which is reimbursed to the company in part at the completion of the project and the rest once job creation goals are met.  Eligible investments include equipment, building and land acquisition; construction and renovation; and site and infrastructure development, along with covering a limited amount of the project soft costs (engineering, architecture, etc.).

The Central New York Regional Economic Development Council (CNY REDC) participates in the application scoring process. The CNY REDC reviews every application in Central New York and then scores each project based on its alignment with regional priorities. The CNY REDC’s score accounts for 20% of each project’s total score. The other 80% of the score is determined by the state agency, in this case ESD, based on specific scoring criteria. Scoring criteria for every program are included in the annual Resource Guide, which can be downloaded from the Key Documents section on https://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/. A summary of the CNY REDC’s priorities, along with a link to the full regional strategic plan and a video of a recent presentation by an ESD representative, can be found here: www.cayugaeda.org/business-assistance/nysesd-funding/.  Many of Cayuga County’s existing businesses align with the CNY REDC’s target industries, such as tourism, manufacturing, financial services, and agribusiness.

Businesses of all sizes within these target areas may be able to access ESD grant funds. What matters more than the size is the level of investment and projected job growth associated with the project. A number of locally owned businesses have received ESD grant funds in recent years, including Aurora Shoe Co., CIDEC, Currier Plastics, and Cayuga Milk Ingredients. These businesses are owned and operated by our neighbors and employ hundreds of people locally. Total project costs for these examples have ranged from $450K of investment up to $104M, and all committed to creating new jobs.

This is not to say that accessing ESD grant funds is easy.  Businesses must go through a substantial application process (due at the end of July), and then applicants are required to wait a number of months to find out if the funding is awarded (announcements are usually in December). During this period, businesses cannot start their project. Any expenses incurred between the application deadline and the award announcement will not be eligible costs in the grant budget. As such, incurring costs early could reduce the amount of the grant. Furthermore, once awarded, a business must very carefully track expenses and make sure to hit all of the goals outlined in their grant contract. It requires a lot of time and paperwork, which is why this particular incentive makes the most sense for larger investments.  Despite some of the challenges and extra legwork required to get this funding, ESD grants are often the incentive that fills the financing gap that would normally keep a local business from growing at a pace they need to stay competitive and successful.  Ultimately, this award leads to additional employment and a larger tax base in Cayuga County.

Our role at CEDA is to assist you with the technical side of the CFA process and help guide your business through any other local, state, or federal assistance that could be helpful to your business. If you are interested in applying for ESD grant funds this year, please reach out to our office. We can help make sure that your application includes the right information to be competitive in the CFA process. These grants are funded by our taxpayer dollars and will be awarded to businesses across the State, so we want to make sure to bring as many of those dollars as possible back to Central New York and Cayuga County!

Tracy Verrier is the Executive Director of the Cayuga Economic Development Agency and Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce.
Published in the May 10, 2018, edition of The Citizen.