Responding To Your Questions About "Beyond Empire Zones"

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First of all, thank you for your comments on the Upstate Senate Democratic Caucus’s proposed Task Force on Empire Zones and for your interest in the economic development landscape in New York.

Unfortunately, New York State businesses not only struggle with high taxes, and high energy costs, but a myriad of issues, not the least of which is a growing tax burden. The Empire Zone program awards benefits for wages paid, jobs created and investments made, and in many, many instances, the program has served us well by leveling the playing field for hundreds of good, responsible and growing employers. Through the last decade or more, the state’s economic development toolkit has developed and continued to add programs, though without a comprehensive look at the big picture. Its been a layering of programs and we hope we're providing a chance to take a deep breath and look around.

The shortening of the Empire Zone program (by hastening the program’s expiration date which occurred in this year’s enacted State budget), allows us to formulate a more thoughtful, strategic approach to economic development. The formation of a Task Force, with a relatively large number of members, allows New York State to benefit from a comprehensive review of what has worked and what hasn't; what New York businesses need most, and frankly, what is a waste of valuable taxpayer dollars--and to do so well before the negotiation of next year’s State budget.

Having worked for many years with business owners and CEOs (particularly in the manufacturing sector), we believe there is no better resource from a practitioner’s point of view. Those regional and national manufacturing firms are experts in the art and agony of competition with other states, and other countries with a vastly different set of economic benchmarks. 

The locally run and managed manufacturing firm in New York not only understands what is necessary to succeed, but what other states are doing to enable their businesses to do so. The regional employers in healthcare or financial services understand what costs are driving their businesses. We can benefit greatly from the expertise of the men and women that lead our major regional employers every day in crafting the next generation of economic development tools. We have a rich field to choose from when it comes to business expertise. Yes, New York is the birthplace of giants like Kodak and Xerox, but also of hundreds of companies leading their fields in innovation and new product development, recognized internationally for their achievement and creativity. 

That being said, the Senate Majority’s proposed Task Force also provides the opportunity for the Governor, the Assembly and the Senate to appoint representatives from not only business and business organizations, but from universities, unions and other factes of economic development.

As one last note, New York State does have several economic development power programs for businesses throughout the state accessible through the New York Power Authority, which offers low cost power contracts or rate subsidies on power utilization.  Most utilities offer economic development programming for business development as well. And you are absolutely right--those programs are incredibly useful and as with any valuable incentive tool, they are in high demand.

Kristen Heath is the Executive Director of the Upstate Caucus.

Your Comments

Skorton Leads

...the front man is a saxophone player?  OK, I think you are serious about singing a new tune here.  Mazeltopf, and here's to a successful endeavor.

Thank you

I appreciate you taking the time to respond.  This, to me, is the heart of the matter:

though without a comprehensive look at the big picture.

We really, really need to look at the big picture, I think.  That's why I am so pleased that a task force will be formed. And, absolutely, local and regional companies have lots to contribute to this process-- even international companies do, really, I didn't mean to imply that we shouldn't include imput from large corporate entities.  In fact, I specifically hope that a represetative from Alstom is included on the Task Force-- both because transition to manufacturing train parts is a viable direction for a lot of precision manufacturers who will no longer be selling to the US automakers, and because economic development methods used in France might be worth some consideration, too.

In the past, however, there was an element of control by the Big Guys that resulted in an economic development policy environment in the State Senate, at least, that resembled old, retired generals who are always fighting the last war.  NYS's economy desperately needs to actively adjust to changing conditions, not just abate taxes or incentivize the creation of new jobs for companies that are in the winners' circle already, or make the "right" contributions.  Thankfully, I do see movement in a positive direction-- away from economic development as a patronage/pay-to-play system, and toward a bit of innovation and forward-thinking strategy.  A little will to look at the big picture-- that is a great thing.

Some other really hopeful developments include the recent passage of a bill authorizing UDC to fund capital projects for urban and regional farmers' markets; and the NYS Biofuels Blueprint (although that could have had a mandate broader than just liquid biofuels).  Decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels and long-distance transport is an economic imperative, as well as an environmental one-- see a nearby Canadian economist's views on that at and a development agenda should work to help our businesses to adjust to a changing landscape in a way that keeps the skills of New Yorkers in productive use.

Now, keep me feeling hopeful and positive about this by NOT appointing Tom Golisano to the task force, ok?  Let him go "help" Florida!