Kevin S. Law, President & CEO of the Long Island...

Kevin S. Law, President & CEO of the Long Island Association, left, and Kenneth Adams, President & CEO of Empire State Development. (Feb. 22, 2011) Credit: David Pokress

Kenneth Adams plans to do inside New York State government what he's been doing from the outside since 1995: pushing for fewer taxes and regulations.

Adams is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's nominee to run economic development programs. He started work Tuesday with meetings in Melville and is expected to be confirmed soon by the State Senate.

Adams, 50, comes to the $175,000-a-year job of president of Empire State Development Corp. after over four years of leading the Business Council and 11 years at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. 

His plan of action
"For all those businesses that say, 'We need lower taxes, less onerous regulations . . . we need to be freed up so that we can expand,' I'm their guy," Adams said. "That's been my message in [16] years of advocacy for businesses. That will be my message in this new job."

In a wide-ranging interview, Adams said he planned to lobby within state government for adoption of caps on yearly increases in local property taxes and state spending, both of which Cuomo has called for.

He will work with agency heads to consider the implications of new programs. "As they develop ideas, I can do my best to say, 'This is how I think that will play out for employers,' " he said. 

No stranger to Long Island
While spending most of his life in Brooklyn, Adams is familiar with Long Island's high taxes through his work as Business Council president. He also has a second home in Hampton Bays and his grandfather, John Cranford Adams, was Hofstra University president for 20 years.

"Do I have a lot to learn about Long Island? Absolutely," Ken Adams said. "But I know it has a diverse and complicated economy."

Area executives are eager to bring him up to speed on issues.

Robert Catell, chairman of Stony Brook University's Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, has known Adams for years and both worked together on projects in Brooklyn.

"Ken is a quick learner," said Catell, former chairman of National Grid's U.S. operations and KeySpan. "The state has some serious fiscal difficulties, so that presents some real challenges for him . . . [but] I think the state has some tremendous attributes that he can build on."

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association business group, agreed, adding Adams "isn't just going to be focused on the city [New York City] or upstate."

Still, Adams has taken a post that became a revolving door under Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David A. Paterson. Recent predecessors include lawyer Patrick Foye, a former Nassau deputy county executive.

Responding to reports of businesses abusing Empire Zone tax credits, Paterson and the state Legislature replaced the program with the Excelsior Jobs Program. And Cuomo now wants to revamp it and Power for Jobs, which provides cheap electricity to large employers. 

Critics seek changes
Some critics of the programs oppose Adams' nomination.

Leaders of the Coalition for Economic Justice, a Buffalo-based group of liberal and religious advocates, charged that Adams wasn't interested in holding companies accountable for the jobs and investment promised in return for state help. They said he opposed their push to overhaul industrial development agencies.

"This nomination signals more of a business-as-usual approach," said Andy Reynolds, a coalition organizer. "Very little would change in the way New York does economic development."

Adams vowed to pursue companies that don't keep their promises. However, he also said the Excelsior program is more stringent than Empire Zones.

"We will fiercely claw back everything we can," he said. "But the holes in the bucket have mostly been fixed through legislative and regulatory reforms."

Kenneth Adams, a longtime lobbyist for businesses, has been nominated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to lead New York State's economic development efforts.

Age.  50

Job. Empire State Development Corp. president and chief executive; Economic Development commissioner

Salary.  $175,000

Career highlights.  Business Council of New York State president and chief executive, 2006-11; Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president, 1995-2006; founding executive director of New York Cares, 1988-94

Hometown. Brooklyn; second home in Hampton Bays.

Family.  Wife, Diana; two children

Education.  Bachelor's and master's degrees, Middlebury College

Lon Island ties.  Grandfather John Cranford Adams, Hofstra University president, 1944-64

Compiled by James T. Madore

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