Fueling New York state’s “innovation economy” will take continued cooperation between the business community and academia, the Empire State Development Corporation’s President and Commissioner Kenneth Adams told members of New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium.
Adams, who has headed Empire State Development since being appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo two years ago, said the state’s economic fortunes have dramatically improved recently and that the economic recovery from the recession appears to be moving along well. In 2012, he said, the corporation completed 243 deals with private companies, making it one of the best years on record.
“Last year was our busiest year ever,” he told a gathering of college officials attending the symposium at Union College Monday morning.
Adams said the deals promised a total of roughly $520 million in tax breaks for the companies, provided they achieve the jobs they’ve committed to creating. In total, he said the deals are forecast to bring in $3.1 billion in private investment that should create an estimated 64,000 jobs across the state.
These aren’t low-level jobs, Adams said. Rather, they’re jobs that are helping to transform New York’s workforce into one that fosters innovation.
“These are new jobs,” he said. “Jobs where you have to go to work and invent.”
Where the talent is
Without a pipeline of local talent, however, filling these jobs becomes difficult, Adams said. Tax breaks alone are not enough to retain and help build the innovation economy.
“Companies will go to wherever the talent is,” he said. “That’s the role of your schools — to produce that workforce.”
Adams said the important place academia has in attracting new jobs to the state is reflected in the leadership role college presidents have been given in the 10 regional economic councils the governor created across the state. Each council is designed to have two co-chairpeople, including a president from a college or university within that region.
The regional councils are the first to begin working with a company hoping to secure tax credits from Empire State Development. Adams said this ground-up approach toward economic growth ensures leaders can determine what projects are the best fit for their communities and the type of skills the local workforce will need in the future.
This will help the state continue its transition from being the place that mass-produced consumer products to one that is focused on producing innovations. Already, he said, the state has started attracting niche industries that are creating skilled, high-paying jobs that will continue to power New York’s $1.14 trillion economy.
“We’re coming out of this in positive ways and with key industries,” he said.
Adams also spoke of several new initiatives included in Cuomo’s budget, which was adopted by the state Legislature last week. Among them are the Innovate New York Fund, which provides a fund with up to $45 million to support innovation, job creation and high growth entrepreneurship throughout the state.
In addition, the budget provides for 10 “innovation hot spots” across the state, which will be designed as high-tech incubators at locations affiliated with higher education institutions in an effort to encourage private-sector growth. The regional councils will each designate an existing or newly created incubator and then compete with one another over the next two years to receive benefits and support from the state.
“At the end of the day, we couldn’t do any of this without you as a source for our workforce,” Adams told the conference.
The consortium includes six small colleges across New York, including Union College in Schenectady and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. Founded two years ago to explore ways the small colleges could establish partnerships, the consortium now includes roughly 13,900 undergraduates, 1,300 faculty and about 153,000 alumni.
The symposium Monday was the first hosted by the consortium. Amy Cronin, a special assistant to the consortium, said the goal is for the small colleges to pool certain resources in order to have a greater impact.
“We want to have an impact on our communities,” she said. “And we want to improve that impact.”