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Cuomo downplays low job numbers in Start-Up NY report

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is defending Start-Up NY, his economic development plan that has created just a small number of jobs.

One of the centerpieces of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development plans has created just a small number of jobs so far, but the governor is urging patience.

The progress report on the Start-Up NY program was three months late and buried in a release on the Friday evening before the July Fourth holiday weekend. The announcement, quietly added to the Cuomo administration’s economic development agency’s website, was in contrast to the beginning of the program, which was introduced by Cuomo in 2014 with much fanfare. In June of that year, Cuomo proudly announced at the Rochester Institute of Technology that the roll out of the first businesses to participate in a program that gives business entrepreneurs a 10-year pass on paying income, sales and property taxes. He called it the ultimate economic development program.

“We offer the least expensive locations in the county for business,” Cuomo said.

The governor also embarked on a $53 million, publicly financed, multi-media advertising campaign promoting Start-Up NY, which aired nationwide.

The spending was questioned in a 2015 audit by the state comptroller, who said the program left real questions about whether the results justify the cost of the ads.

And the new report, released on July 1, seems to do  little to answer those questions, reporting that a total of 408 jobs have been created in the first two years.

Cuomo, speaking at an event in Plattsburgh, downplayed the importance of Start-Up NY, saying it's only one program of many of New York’s economic development initiatives. And he urges patience.

“Four hundred [jobs] have been created to date but 4,100 are in the pipeline,” Cuomo said. “We just started the program and when a company agrees to come, it doesn’t come tomorrow.”

And the governor said the ads, though branded as Start-Up NY, actually had a broader message about New York’s attempts to create a more business friendly climate, and by that measure have been successful.

“We had a bad reputation that we had to correct to even be considered,” Cuomo said.

Ken Girardin, with the Empire Center, a watchdog think tank, said the Start-Up program should be scrapped and that the job creation levels may have already peaked.

“Their focus to date has been how can we bribe people to come here, how can we bribe people to stay here,” Girardin said. “That’s not how you build a successful economy.”

He said instead, New York should focus on reducing onerous business regulations and high costs of workers compensation insurance, among other things.

And Girardin said the claim that 4,100 jobs will be created in the next four years assumes that all of the companies who are currently signed up will actually follow through and keep those commitments. He said one quarter of the companies listed as participating in the first year of the program had dropped out by year two, and the data for the firms listed in the second year of the program is incomplete. He said of 159 businesses listed in 2015, 50 have not even begun their operations.

Cuomo, speaking in Plattsburgh to reporters, admits that perhaps Start-Up has not after all been the perfect remedy.

“Because for most business, just saying you don’t have to pay taxes is not enough,” Cuomo said.

He said the state’s other economic development programs also offer incentives to businesses.  

The head of Start-Up, Leslie Whatley, leaves in a few days to take a new job in Connecticut. In a written statement, she praised the program as “an innovative model of public-private-partnerships.”

A spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, which oversees Start-Up NY, said more applications are coming in new companies will be announced soon.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.