Big A for Amsterdam

Posted: November 25, 2011 in Economic Development, Vision
Tags: ,

I’d like to take a good look at an initiative (dubbed “Big A”) for getting Amsterdam growing again that was recently proposed on Flippin’ Amsterdam. I would urge anyone who holds out any hope for revitalization in Amsterdam to read through the entire post and consider it. The ideas behind the proposal are ones that have all been discussed before or have been adopted in other cities; however I think this is somewhat of a breakthrough for Flippin to combine everything into a cohesive, actionable plan.

The idea starts with the formation of a public/private corporation (“Big A”) which will be responsible for the economic revitalization of Amsterdam. What Big A will do is fund projects in five key areas:

  1. Preserve existing housing stock and drive residential development in the city for the 20-34 crowd.
  2.  Develop the Southside as a residential and commercial mixed-use destination
  3.  Invest in alternative energy as a revenue driver for the city and attract renewable energy start-ups (leverage the locks on the Mohawk)
  4.  Create a digital arts and engineering (focus on alternative energy) charter middle school
  5.  Establish an incubator center around digital arts, alternative energy and nanotech


Overall, I believe these proposals are right on target to make Amsterdam economically competitive again. They build on Amsterdam’s strengths and address the weaknesses. They also fit well with the direction of the NY Tech Valley initiative and the trends in the global economy.

The $3-$5 million price tag that Flippin estimates, which a majority is proposed to be funded by public bonding (borrowing), will no doubt scare some people. But Flippin rightly points out that there is usually no debate when the city bonds for things like demolition of old buildings or other projects that are understood to be “essential”. I believe investing in our economic future is essential. If the furnace in a house breaks down in the middle of winter, the homeowner will no doubt borrow money to fix it rather than risk freezing to death. Amsterdam’s economic furnace is broken down and we are facing an economic winter.

An important aspect of this plan is accountability, and I think Flippin’s ideas for this will go a long way in helping people to trust this initiative. First, he proposes that the agency has a 5 year charter. I’m not sure if that means the agency will only exist for five years, or only use public funds for 5 years, but either way, that’s an important aspect because it avoids creating a new government dinosaur (ie like AIDA) . The other control he suggests is providing public funding in yearly increments ($500,000 to $1 million per year) based on performance, all of which makes perfect sense.

Frankly, the greatest challenge in this whole proposal is selling it to the people of Amsterdam such that it wins an approval in a public referendum. The past mayoral election shows a city evenly divided on the future direction of the city. Flippin advocates “destroying and disrupting” the current thinking on economic growth and the institutions (ie AIDA) that are charged with stimulating economic growth. While I completely agree that our thinking has to change radically, the militaristic analogy, when extended reveals a problem. It’s usually understood that an offensive effort requires an overwhelming advantage in order to overrun a defending foe. That advantage is simply not there. I believe it will require a whole lot of persuasion to rally our residents around this plan. The past behavior of simply labeling people as “against change” or other less than flattering names will simply backfire again. The case for advancing this plan must be presented in a positive, persuasive way, such that a solid majority of voters believe and trust the initiative. If it’s not accepted at first, then it needs to be presented again in a different way and many more times if necessary until it finally takes hold.

I hope to post more comments on the individual proposals soon!

  1. flippinamsterdam says:


    I appreciate your support in the overall concept. I have a quibble though…

    I’ll stick to my guns that there are people who are utterly, unrelentingly “against change”. I think they need to be called out as they will undermine any effort and continue taking us down the road to futility. IMHO, fighting change is a cultural and institutional mindset here. And here we are.

    That said, I try to be nuanced between sound criticism and debate and that which is anything but. Or people who will never accept and fight change versus those that can be persuaded or who make good faith efforts to shape decisions and policy. We differ on this point– you perceive that I polarize the debate rather than try to build consensus to a common ground. I happen to believe it’s bad negotiation to cede ground without expectation of the same on the other side. And with some actors and institutions, they will never cede ground.

    Maybe that’s cynical but experience has proven me right time and again especially when you get those rare glimpses behind the curtain, so to speak.

    Still, change by nature is disruptive, unpleasant and difficult; I think to believe that broad scale change will occur with no pushback or in a broad collaborative effort simply is not how change comes about especially when the level of change in this proposal is quite large, and hence disruptive.


    • Tim Becker says:

      I don’t disagree that there are those who will never accept certain changes (ie “never-adopters”), and I don’t disagree with the idea of calling them out or directly countering certain ideas. I think I’ve done my fair share on this very blog.

      Let me put it another way – we must assume that the majority of Amsterdam residents are open to persuasion (ie the “middle”) and that the “never-adopters” are a small percentage (otherwise, why are we even bothering?) The never-adopters will mount opposition to a plan such as this. The middle will have concerns and want to hear the counter arguments to the opposition in order to make up their mind. The counter arguments must resonate strongly with the middle, while isolating the never-adopters. The middle needs to be persuaded to see the proposal as being beneficial to them, and the never-adopters as standing in the way of that benefit. If the counter arguments fail to directly address those concerns, or worse, are perceived to be ridiculing the middle’s concerns, then you end up inadvertently driving them toward the never-adopter’s point of view.

      Case in point – you offer strong language about “disrupting and destroying” the current thinking and institutions associated with economic development, but you are not specific as to who you are targeting. Regular readers of your blog may “get” what you are talking about. But if John Q Public reads your proposal and has some concerns, will he think he is being targeted to be “disrupted and destroyed”?

      The never-adopters on an issue will not be persuaded by any arguments, therefore if the true intent is to persuade, the arguments must be made with the middle in mind as the primary audience. That’s just the way I see it!

      • flippinamsterdam says:


        I don’t subscribe to the “middle” as a strategy — that tends to get you something muddled and undifferentiated and ultimately mediocre at best.

        While I don’t subscribe to the “middle” theory, I do subscribe to garnering support from Jane Q Public and that is why I propose a public referendum. The public referendum forces a case to be made to the public to secure their buy-in. I think that will be a difficult sell but even if it fails my hope is that it will at least meaningfully shift the conversation. So I think it’s important to point out that I’m not trying to ‘destroy’ Jane Q Public if I intentionally put forward the concept to public referendum.

        I make no pretense of my blog — it is for a niche audience and I don’t write with the aim of getting ‘mass’ readership. Instead, I try to advocate a point of view and hope some readers join in for the ride. As far as this proposal becoming real, it requires legs beyond that of a few bloggers; I make no pretense of that either. I can only offer reasoned arguments why this makes sense and like I always say, I’ll respect good faith counterarguments or ideas; on the other hand, I won’t accept clearly flawed ideas just to move to “the middle”. If I think the dog is a doberman and you counter that it is a German shepherd, it does not mean the dog becomes a labrador so we can meet in the “middle” with neither of us correct. On the other hand, if you want to buy a red collar for the dog, while I prefer green, I might propose blue as the middle and find that an acceptable compromise or ultimately opt for the red collar if you let me buy a green leash.


      • Tim Becker says:

        I’m not sure why you think what I meant by “the middle” had anything to do with watering down or compromising core ideas. I am using that term describe who I am presuming to be the majority of voters who will be skeptical but possibly persuadable about this idea. I’m talking about how to best persuade them.

  2. robert purtell says:

    There seems to be a lot of distain for AIDA, but AIDA is not an issue in my eyes, I had always thought of AIDA as a positive for Amsterdam, I have been able to help several clients with funding for projects in the past, although I have not had the need in the past few years. I have not had the opportunity to fund anything in the city.
    The missing component is that there is noone who can be in the trenches everyday, looking under rocks and or rubbing elbows in the trenches with the people that have the need.
    Also lets not lose sight of the fact that the requirements for financing for average projects are way beyond the scope of funding availible from AIDA..
    Amsterdam (and AIDA) need to decide what the target is for the future and develop an infrastucture around that. Kinda ask ourselves what is it we really want? to be the lowest taxed in the area? Multitude of high paying Jobs? Excellent quality of life? Bedroom Community?
    Once we have that answered maybe we can make a strategic plan for the future.

    • Tim Becker says:

      The idea of determining the target for the future is exactly right. What is needed is for someone to paint a compelling picture and say confidently “this is what I want for Amsterdam”, and I think this is what Flippin has done. He presents a well-rounded picture of Amsterdam that I agree with, balancing residential development, business development, and educational development. Indeed, he presents these as all interconnected which is key.

      Flippin’s proposal clearly favors policy that encourages development of many small businesses rather than a few large businesses. This by itself is a radical departure from current thinking. I see our city as having been wrecked economicially and in terms of morale, by the static gaps left by large businesses coming and going. A dynamic economy, where a large number of smaller businesses are constantly coming and going, seems far more stable and beneficial in the long run.

      This is maybe why you detect some disdain for AIDA. Their strategy, as far as I know, has always been centered on attracting larger businesses. For me, when the organization decided to let the county take them over, that was basically them saying “we give up, we are out of ideas, please someone else take over and tell us what to do.” They have basically admitted that their own strategy for economic growth has failed. I see no new vision or direction coming out of AIDA, but yet it continues to exist.

      If you say that the average project requires more funding than AIDA is able to come up with, then that, to me, is yet another point against them. I’d be perfectly fine with letting the county take the lead when it comes to attracting large businesses to the region. If the city let that piece go, there would more resources available to focus on a strong small business strategy.

      • robert purtell says:

        AIDA has no strategy because it has appears to have no direction, and needs some strong leadership, the leadership has to have the confidence that thet can do there job as well as job security and a competitive wage. The days of Vito Dandreano doing the job because he enjoyed the power are gone.
        Aida has done a good job providing for small companies in the past, take a look in the industrial park and see the evidence, Lusordo foods,Breton Industries,Advanced Generator technology,Washburn cold storage,Mohawk sign, FGI Industries,Saratoga Balnket, as well as others.
        As far as bedroom community goes, I am not hanging my hat on that, but that is an important aspect for the small business community, These are the people that will buy the products or services of the small business person.
        Quality of life issues are important in all the ideas discussed here and I beleive the quality of life is improving even in the enviroment of the global economy.

  3. snafu says:

    The term bedroom community is total bull scat…….we need to succeed has a COMMUNITY before you can be a place that people will sleep. We have been so locked into the 70’s and 80’s that we have missed the 90’s and the last decade. Has far as AIDA goes….get rid of them and start with people who have no ties to the past politician…they had there chance.

    • Tim Becker says:

      The term “bedroom community” doesn’t sit well with me either, as it suggests an economy solely base on housing. Besides that idea being *boring*, can Amsterdam really sustain it’s economy by concentrating soley on housing? A vibrant business community has to be part of the picture.

    • karin says:

      I’d be on a planning board for free.

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