Cuomo wants to consolidate high-tech research programs

Originally published in Newsday on February 10, 2020.

ALBANY — The Cuomo administration is proposing to consolidate two research programs that work with universities and hospitals across New York — and make them compete for funds.

And that’s not sitting well with the chairwoman of the State Senate Commerce Committee.

State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hempstead) said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s idea to squeeze the 29 “Centers of Excellence” and “Centers for Advanced Technology” into one category and make them jockey for a smaller pool of funds could put some out of business. Some advocates believe as many as 10 hubs could receive zero funding.

“It’s going to work against us down the road,” as New York competes to be a high-tech hub, Kaplan said. “It would really be a disservice to our residents.”

Kaplan plans to raise the subject Thursday at a legislative hearing on Cuomo’s economic development portion of the state budget proposal.

In a memo accompanying the budget, the administration said it wants the centers to compete for funds “to better capitalize on the centers with the highest performance that promote priority markets and job creation.”

Cuomo’s Budget Division didn’t immediately comment further on its plan to shrink the programs. Lawmakers are supposed to adopt a budget by April 1, the beginning of New York's fiscal year.

Spread around the state, most of the research centers are affiliated with state university campuses. Some are with medical centers and some with private universities, such as Syracuse University and Clarkson University.

Stony Brook University houses four of the centers in the targeted programs, including a center for “advanced energy research technology” and another for biotechnology.

At Binghamton University, the “Small Scale Systems Integration and Packaging Center” is the research home of M. Stanley Whittingham, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing lithium-ion batteries.

Typically, the state has provided about $1 million annually to each center, with the host giving a matching amount. The money then is leveraged to lure private companies to create jobs.

The centers created 3,458 new jobs and retained another 6,378 jobs over a three-year period ending March 31, 2017, according to reports filed by the state’s economic development agency. The reports also claim the centers provided billions of dollars’ worth of non-job economic impacts.

Stony Brook’s energy center, for instance, houses seven private companies in its business incubator. The biotechnology center houses a “bio-entrepreneur in residence,” which gives companies one year to grow on campus then launch a Long Island-based business.

“These centers have been pivotal to some of our largest and most successful economic development initiatives,” said Assemb. Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton), who is circulating a letter among her colleagues urging them to reject the governor’s proposal.

“We’re going to be arguing strenuously to keep these research centers intact,” Lupardo said.