Friday May 24, 2013

Economic Growth Plan Anchored By Tax-free Zones

Properties adjacent to SUNY Oswego may see significant breaks
By Avery Galek

    Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed New York state’s latest economic development initiative earlier this week that has the potential to impact Oswego County.

    The plan is to establish tax-free zones for businesses surrounding SUNY campuses and satellite locations.

    “We really have to pull all the pieces together and take economic development to a new level,” said former Syracuse mayor Matt Driscoll during the press conference at SUNY Oswego on Thursday.

    The proposed plan is a 10-year program that still requires legislation. The initiative will change properties adjacent to SUNY campuses outside of New York City and private institutions north of Westchester into tax-free zones.

    There are 64 SUNY campuses located across New York state and 93 percent of New Yorkers live within 15 miles of a SUNY campus.

    Up to 200,000 square feet surrounding a campus will be included in the tax-free zone, and an additional 3 million square feet for commercial space at private universities.

    This means adjacent properties to SUNY Oswego can be utilized in the program as well.

    “The idea would be that if the property currently pays property taxes to the city of Oswego, it would work out a PILOT (payments-in-lieu-of-taxes) solution so that the city isn’t losing what they’re already gaining,” Driscoll said.

    Taking an under-utilized piece of property and having a company move in and create jobs is a benefit win to everyone, he added.

    Eligible businesses include companies with a relationship to academics and creating new jobs, including new businesses and out-of-state businesses planning to relocate to New York.

    These new ventures will be free of business, corporation, sales and property taxes. There will be no franchise fees or income tax for employees and owners.

    ‘Bold mission’

    “This is obviously a very bold mission,” said Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen. “I think it’s going to have a positive impact on the community. If we can establish Oswego as friendly to innovation and technology, we’re really going to build a strong economy here.”

    The goal is to attract new businesses and new employees.

    “I think it has huge potential,” said Dan Griffin, interim director of admissions at SUNY Oswego. “I think the concept in some ways is innovative. This is the first time I’ve heard of any program like this anywhere. At the very least, it seems to me you might have students who have opportunities to work with these companies, either as a student-employee, internship, or developing co-operations.”

    The program will begin once it passes legislative scrutiny. Both the Speaker of the House and the head of the Senate have signed on to the program, according to Driscoll.

    “These kinds of places are springboards for high-tech companies,” he added. “They want to be around younger people and institutions of higher learning. But there is a large emphasis on working with locals as well.”

    A general concern for a few conference attendees was the competition for established businesses that do pay taxes.

    Driscoll said it is a competitive environment, and noted much of the criteria for applying businesses will be developed through the Empire State Development Corp.

    “Having academic institutions involved in how we grow our economy is extremely important to the governor,” Driscoll said.

    The program received support from the New York Conference of Mayors and New York State Electric and Gas.

    “We want to make sure that we don’t do economic development programs solely on the backs of local tax payers and that there are equal contributions from both,” he added. “Tax free is a great incentive for companies to come here, but they need to make capital investment as well.”