Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — Monday, April 26, 2004


ALBANY—Empire Zones are New York State's most valuable economic-development tool, and state lawmakers should extend the Empire Zone program, preserve its current strengths, ensure program accountability, and offer zone benefits to manufacturers that make major capital investments in an effort to retain jobs, The Business Council's economic-development specialist said Monday.

"Most of New York's major job-creation successes in recent years have been made possible by the power of Empire Zone benefits," said Ken Pokalsky, director of environmental and economic development programs for The Council.

"Other states' development professionals envy New York's Empire Zone benefits, and for good reason. We need to keep these benefits and make them available for other worthy projects."

Pokalsky spoke Monday at an Albany press conference at which representatives of small business, New York's economic-development professionals, agricultural interests, and the state's towns and counties joined The Council in broad support of preserving the Empire Zone program as a broad economic-development tool.

The press conference was held just before the state Assembly was to hold a hearing on the Empire Zone program. The Business Council, which represents New York's employer community and thus the sector most directly affected by the program, was not invited to testify at the Assembly hearing.

Debate over the future of the program has focused in part on its value in aiding economically distressed areas. Pokalsky said the program can and should be used to help distressed urban and rural areas, but its benefits should also be available to county and state development interests as they pursue major new investments, Pokalsky said.

"Both of these objectives is important to the state's overall economic vitality, and each can be pursued simultaneously through the Empire Zone program," Pokalsky said. "A fair balance between helping struggling areas and attracting major projects wherever we can is both necessary and possible."

A top Business Council priority for the Empire Zone program is expanding its focus to help manufacturers already here retain jobs.

"New York's manufacturing job growth rate trails the nation's badly, and the Empire Zone program could be modified to help stem the loss of jobs," Pokalsky said. "Over the last five years, in fact, we have lost an average of 100 good manufacturing jobs in New York State every single day. That's the equivalent of a significant factory closing every single week."

Manufacturing job losses are especially damaging to the economy, Pokalsky added, because manufacturing jobs in New York pay, on average, more than $11,000 per year more than non-manufacturing private-sector jobs, according to the state Labor Department.

Because manufacturers must invest regularly in high-tech equipment to remain competitive and keep jobs, The Council is urging lawmakers to extend Empire Zone benefits to manufacturers that make significant capital investments in New York State and either increase employment or retain a high percentage of existing employment in the state, Pokalsky said.

The Council also believes that the program should be expanded by adding a zone in the 11 New York State counties that don't have a zone, Pokalsky said.