The head of the state’s leading economic development agency says the Capital Region has positive momentum with a strong economic outlook.
Ken Adams, president and CEO of Empire State Development, said the region is thriving in a variety of industries with local colleges and universities driving economic activity and producing a highly skilled workforce.
“The good news is that it’s a diverse economy with a skilled workforce,” Adams said. “You have really good economic development organizations in the region, like Metroplex, and industry groups, like Sematech. It’s a dynamic economy with activity in a lot of different sectors and a lot of projects moving at the same time.”
Adams has served as CEO of Empire State Development since 2011. Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Adams as the new commissioner of the state Department of Taxation and Finance. He will transition over to that role this month.
Family: Married, two children
Position: President, CEO and commissioner of Empire State Development
Future position: Commissioner of the state Department of Taxation and Finance
Previous positions: President and CEO of the Business Council of New York State, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
During his four years at ESD, Adams spearheaded several of Cuomo’s economic-development initiatives, including the Regional Economic Development Councils and newly created business tax incentive program START-UP NY. His leadership role also had him traveling across the state to hear concerns and prospects directly from businesses, local governments and nonprofit organizations.
Adams said business owners, local officials and economic development experts in all 62 counties of the state share not only similar concerns but also a growing confidence in New York.
“I get a lot of this feedback and it’s helpful because I’m able to make suggestions to the governor and his policy team,” he said. “The governor has made it clear that we have to do everything we can to limit property-tax growth. Property taxes are not only an extraordinary burden on homeowners, but also business owners. There is also a growing sense of improvement, what I like to call CEO confidence. Business owners large and small have a shared sense that the state is moving in the right direction.”
Last month the governor’s office announced a start-up technology company based in New York City would move to Schenectady in March under START-UP NY. SureDone Inc. is expected to invest $45,000 and create 26 new jobs over the next five years.
Adams said he believes the START-UP NY model is sustainable long-term. The program allows new, expanding and out-of-state companies to locate in New York, in partnership with participating colleges and universities, and pay no local or state taxes for up to 10 years.
The tax-free program leverages the state’s schools to boost economic development statewide, Adams said, adding that START-UP NY is a “win-win-win” for colleges, students and local communities.
“There is a foundation all across the state of excellent schools,” he said. “Is it sustainable? Absolutely, because it is built on something that is well-established and well-regarded. The colleges and universities cannot pick up and move, and this makes them stronger participants in the local communities. It also keeps students who graduate in the community with a job, and attracts students from other states.”
The program has received criticism from business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and some of the state’s existing small businesses that see the tax-free initiative as unfair competition.
Adams said even though the companies won’t pay taxes, they would support local economic activity. The process of enabling a company to participate in START-UP NY is also tightly regulated to ensure that it doesn’t create competition, he said.
“We don’t want unfair competition,” he said. “So far we haven’t had any problems like that. We tell the companies and schools up front not to bring competitors to the area. So we have controls in place. We’re also pretty confident that companies will grow out of their start-up phase and move into the community.”
Adams leads a staff of about 460 people who work in 10 offices across the state. Nearly 50 of them are “front-line deal-makers,” traveling across the state to forge local partnerships, which is essential for economic development, he said.
Adams said the next step is more funding for infrastructure and water and sewage repairs in rural areas. He said the governor is determined to focus on infrastructure, pointing to a $1 billion pledge for high-speed broadband access for all New Yorkers by the end of 2018.
“There is still a lot more to do,” he said. “We have to do education reform and we have to do broadband and we need more investments in infrastructure.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: