Lawmakers grill official over Start-Up NY

08.04.16 | Bob Price

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top economic-development official on Wednesday bemoaned a wave of negative attention surrounding Start-Up NY, a state program that created just 408 new jobs in its first two years despite a $53 million advertising campaign.

A bipartisan group of state Assembly members grilled Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky about the much-debated jobs program during the early portion of a hearing Wednesday morning on the state's efforts to boost its economy.

Zemsky was defiant as lawmakers repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of the Start-Up program, which allows new and relocating businesses to operate free of state and local taxes for a decade if they set up shop at a State University of New York campus.

He repeatedly characterized Start-Up as a "tool in the toolbox" and suggested the criticism of the program is outsized and unfounded.

"If it would help exorcise all the emotion around the Start-Up NY program, I would be willing to subject myself to any types of medieval torture and any other things that could make all the anger go away because it's too important to the future of the state," Zemsky said.

Cuomo and state lawmakers approved the Start-Up program in 2013, and the state spent $53 million promoting it with television advertisements in and out of state in 2014 and early 2015. The governor referred to the program as a potential "game-changer" and "catalyst for economic development" in upstate New York.