Anthony Manetta, the executive director of the Suffolk Industrial Development Agency who led a two-year overhaul of the agency, told his board Thursday he is stepping down from his $155,000-a-year post.
Manetta said he is leaving to launch a corporate strategy firm. "This is bittersweet," Manetta, 34, said in an interview, "But it's time to return to the private sector. There are some good opportunities out there."
The board named Manetta's deputy Anthony Catapano as interim executive director.
The board voted to give Manetta a $10,000-a-month retainer to help in the transition.
Suffolk Economic Development commissioner Joanne Mineri said the board will "review its options" for a full-time replacement.
She would not offer a time frame for choosing a successor or say whether the board will undertake a national search.
Manetta said that during his tenure the IDA completed 48 new projects to provide tax breaks to businesses locating or expanding in Suffolk. He said that in 2013, 24 projects created 1,395 jobs, $43 million in new payroll and $232 million in capital investment. He said fees paid to the IDA increased from $413,000 in 2011, the year before he took over, to $1.2 million last year. "The statistics speak for themselves; they are extraordinary," Mineri said.
IDA attorney William Wexler said that before Manetta, "We barely had enough work to keep one bond counsel busy -- now we have four working all the time."
Some questioned Manetta's credentials when he took over in 2012, because his past work was largely as a political consultant and former vice chairman of the Suffolk Independence Party.
"Despite my initial misgivings, he has been all over the place, beating the bushes to develop viable business prospects," said Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), minority leader.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who pushed for Manetta's hiring, said that under Manetta the IDA "became a true economic engine for the county."
A spokesman said Bellone "has not given any thought" to a replacement.
One possible contender, Babylon IDA executive director and town Democratic chairman Robert Stricoff, said he has no interest in Manetta's job and wants to stay in his $125,000-a-year town post. Stricoff, a Bellone ally, said Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer "wants me to stay in Babylon and I want to stay here . . . We make a good team."
Manetta said his new firm will be located in Suffolk, and he hopes to open for operation within about a month. The company will provide corporate business strategies and government affairs services.
Manetta said that under county law he will not be able to represent any new clients before the county IDA for the next two years.
He said he will not be involved in politics.
Also Thursday, the IDA board approved spending up to $300,000 with Regional Plan Association to help Amityville, Smithtown, Kings Park and Babylon's Route 110 corridor conduct planning studies to spur development that might generate new IDA business.
The board also agreed to let the planning group work with Suffolk County Community College with efforts to become part of STARTUP-NY, a state program to provide tech startup firms with temporary tax breaks.