Winner says Empire Zone replacement doesn't cut it for upstate economy

George Winner

June 21, 2010

Albany, N.Y.–State Senator George Winner (R-C-I, Elmira) voted in opposition to legislation being enacted by Governor David Paterson and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature to replace upstate New York’s No. 1 economic development tool, the Empire Zone program, with a new, significantly scaled-back initiative that will provide far fewer resources and incentives to attract and retain businesses and industries across the upstate region.

The legislation creating the new program, known as Excelsior Jobs, was approved by the Senate and Assembly and signed into law by Paterson in June.

Winner called the Senate action “another nail in the coffin of the upstate economy.”  He also criticized the timing of the agreement, which came a little over one week before the scheduled end of the previous Empire Zone program on June 30th.  That termination date, which Winner also opposed, was enacted by the governor and legislative leaders as part of last year’s state budget.

“It’s been more than a year since Albany’s current leaders voted to dismantle the Empire Zone program.  They pledged to get a new program in place in plenty of time for existing communities and employers to be able to plan and respond accordingly” said Winner.  “But there’s been virtually no public discussion.  Too many employers and economic developers have been left in the dark.  Now, with one week to go, from out of a back room in Albany comes a new program that, in my opinion, doesn’t cut it.  It makes upstate less competitive, it doesn’t strengthen the private-sector economy, and it won’t protect the businesses and industries that have become the foundation of local economies across our region and all of upstate as the result of empire zones.”

Winner, who has singled out some of the shortcomings of the Empire Zone program in the past and sponsored legislation to reform it, said that the new program doesn’t sufficiently recognize the challenges facing the upstate economy.      

“New York’s current leaders keep sending the wrong message by failing to put the future of the upstate economy on their must-do list of priority issues,” said Winner.  “It has the potential to keep shoving a lot of upstate jobs out the door.”

Many upstate business leaders have also been critical of the new program.  The executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council, Brian McMahon, recently said, “The program is a fraction of the size of the Empire Zone Program and in our opinion would not be sufficient to attract many jobs in most regions of the state. We think economic growth ought to be a key component of solving the state’s fiscal problems.”