Responding To Your Questions About "Beyond Empire Zones"

May 18, 2009

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.