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Slow starter

In June 2013, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to launch Start-Up NY, the governor described the program as “a major victory” for the upstate region.

Added Mr. Cuomo: “We desperately need to jump-start the upstate economy, and these new tax-free communities will give New York an edge like we’ve never had before when it comes to attracting businesses, startups and new investment.”

The program made a fairly narrow group of firms eligible for 10 years of no state or local taxes if they located in certain zones at SUNY campuses.

Now, jump ahead to Dec. 31, 2015: In its first two years of operation, Start-Up NY created a grand total of 408 jobs. There were more tax-free zones (441) than either companies operating in the zones (109) or new employees at those firms.

If this is what a major victory for upstate looks like, the outlook is even bleaker than many pessimists believe.

To be fair, Mr. Cuomo and other Start-Up NY backers never promised quick, dramatic results. But in a new report, the administration states that Start-Up NY “is expected to grow exponentially as the program continues to move forward.”

Time will tell if the five-year projections of 4,140 new jobs and $230 million in investments by participating companies are realistic. But with more than $30 million spent so far to promote Start-Up NY, one has to wonder.

For the Finger Lakes region, the good news is it has done better than some of its peers statewide. A dozen firms here have moved into Start-Up NY spaces. In exchange for roughly $130,000 in tax breaks last year, they added 69 jobs.

But compare that number to this one: 1,536. That’s how many total jobs were cut over the previous 12 months by companies on the 2016 RBJ 75 list of the region’s top employers.

Before the Start-Up NY measure was passed, we posed this question: If New York’s problem is burdensome taxes, why not cut them for all businesses?

Today, Start-Up NY’s meager results make the case for broad-based tax relief even stronger.

7/8/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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