Cuomo's upstate economic development program gets a boost
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Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $1 billion dollar high tech development project on the State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute campus near Utica. It’s the first big announcement of jobs since an economic development scandal brought a federal prison sentence for the former head of the institute, as well as a top aide to Cuomo and several of the governor’s former associates.
Empire State Development Board Chair Howard Zemsky announced the $1 billion dollar project with the North Carolina based Cree Inc, which is predicted to create as many as 600 new jobs over the next eight years with an average salary of $75,000. The state is providing $500 million dollars in incentives.
“We are here to celebrate a very, very extraordinary milestone,” Zemsky told the crowd of local officials and their aides gathered for the announcement.
The silicon carbide wafer fabrication plant will be run by Cree and located at the Marcy Nanotech Center, which is part of the Polytechnic Institute. Cree will also invest $30 million dollars into the research and development committee on the campus.
The money was previously earmarked for the Austrian manufacturer AMS, but AMS pulled out of a deal to build a plant on the site in 2016.
At the time, the former head of SUNY Poly, Alain Kaloyeros, was facing trial on bribery and bid-rigging schemes related to other state economic development projects. Kaloyeros was convicted and was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison, he is free pending an appeal.
AMS was never implicated in any of the wrongdoing.
A lobbyist formerly associated with Cuomo, Todd Howe, two Syracuse area businessmen, and a Buffalo developer was also convicted on corruption charges, as part of a scandal related to the Buffalo Billion project and other economic development schemes.
Cuomo’s former closest aide, Joe Percoco was also caught up in a related scandal and is serving prison time for bribery.
Cuomo who called the new partnership with Cree “a game-changer” and “ transformational”, says he was disappointed when the deal with AMS fell through.
“When AMS left us at the altar two years ago, it hurt, and there was a lot of work that went into it and a lot of hope. And then it disappeared,” Cuomo said. “ And we swallowed hard - we said we were going to keep going.”
The governor spoke by telephone at the announcement event after he said his state plane was grounded due to engine troubles. He made no mention of the previous scandals.
The deal with Cree is structured differently than past arrangements. According to the governor’s office, the grants will be performance-based. The company must first complete the work required in the contract and hire the employees promised, then it will be reimbursed by the state for its efforts.
Some previous economic development projects using public funds have not yet lived up to their potential. A filmmaking hub near Syracuse that was built using $15 million dollars in public funds, stood empty for years until in 2018 it was sold by the state to Onondaga County for $1 dollar.
The Solar City factory in Buffalo, run by Tesla, received a $750 million dollar subsidy, but its CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly postponed the start of the manufacture of a new type of solar roof panel. The plant has so far created just half of the over 1400 jobs it is required to fill by next year, according to the Buffalo News. A spokeswoman for Empire State Development, Pamm Lent, says Tesla is currently meeting all of its job creation goals.
The state Comptroller’s office is conducting an audit of Solar City and several other big-ticket high tech economic development projects.