Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s tax-free zones on college campuses for small technology businesses are “planting seeds for the economic future of this state” but will take “a little bit of time” to create lots of jobs, his economic development czar said Tuesday.
Howard Zemsky, chief executive of Empire State Development, asked members of the State Legislature to give the Start-Up NY program more time to produce the promised “blockbuster, next-generation-type of businesses” that employ thousands of people. He testified at a budget hearing in Albany.
Start-Up NY, a Cuomo idea, has garnered criticism because of its multimillion advertising campaign and a benefit package that allows companies and their employees not to pay some taxes for up to 10 years. To be eligible, firms must be expanding, starting up or new to the state.
Long Island is home to 22 Start-Up NY participants, the most of any region except Buffalo. Most are at Stony Brook University, though Farmingdale State College, C.W. Post and Suffolk County Community College also have tax-free zones.
Statewide, the two-year-old program has enrolled 157 businesses that together have pledged to create 4,278 jobs over five years and invest more than $225 million. Zemsky said Tuesday that another 23 companies will be added by next month.
“I promise you that this program will be a success, and it doesn’t burden existing businesses in the region,” he told Assemb. Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor).
Speaking for about 90 minutes, Zemsky, a Buffalo real estate developer who grew up in Woodbury, said he saw no reason to change how Empire State Development awards building contracts, despite an ongoing federal investigation.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, reportedly issued subpoenas last summer to several state agencies, including Empire State Development, and two Buffalo companies. The probe centers on contributions to Cuomo’s political campaigns and donors who received state contracts for the Buffalo Billion development initiative, which includes a new solar panel factory, said sources who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Zemsky said, “ESD has been very good stewards of the public trust, the public dollars . . . I am extremely confident and proud of them as they are,” he said, referring to the agency’s contracting procedures.