Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos proposal last week to initiate action which he hopes will breathe new life in the upstate New York economy is a fresh start after the frustration of more than a decade of economic decline. The governors suggestion focuses on New Yorks strong public and private university systems each of which have solid research programs and thousands of bright students eager to learn and translate that work into flourishing businesses.
Clarkson University has spent the last decade under the leadership of President Anthony G. Collins working very hard to translate its intellectual capital into job producing businesses and a positive cash flow for the university to help support its mission of educating the next generation of engineers who must learn to compete in worldwide markets.
The governors plan outlined to the legislature will provide a boost for those efforts. Across the state about 3,000,000 square feet of unused SUNY campus facilities and land are available for productive use. That property is state owned and is not subject to property tax, thus providing cheap space for burgeoning businesses needing quarters near the research of faculty and students at the college centers. What makes the governors proposal more intriguing is the promise of a decade of freedom for the new businesses and its employees from sales, corporate and income tax.
That removes a large hurdle to upstate development based upon intellectual capital. Entrepreneurs who conceive of applications to introduce ideas generated on a campus to the market place, many times look for an arrangement with the university to transfer the knowledge, but do the actual work in another state where taxes are lower and the entrepreneur herself is subject to lower income taxes. That reality means that the benefits from New York-nurtured ideas are exploited elsewhere. It is very hard to convince an entrepreneur to invest cash and human energy in a business which is immediately subject to some of the highest tax rates in the nation. This proposal mitigates that problem.
Gov. Cuomo has provided plenty of positive news for the north country in the last couple of weeks. The governor settled the dispute with the Mohawk Indians over casino gambling, (even as incomplete as the deal is), approved a new power line to support renovation of Alcoas East Plant in Massena and now proposed the tax free campus initiative. The north country is home to three units of the state university (SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton College and Jefferson Community College), Clarkson University with a proven track record in developing campus ideas into business and St. Lawrence University with top-notch professors. The collective wisdom of these institutions position the north country well to take advantage of the governors initiative, which now deserves support from the north countrys Senate and Assembly delegation.
As sound as this proposal is, the governor could deliver one more piece of even better news for the upstate economy if he would approve fracking for natural gas, a decision that will lead to hundreds of jobs across the struggling rural New York economy.