May 1, 2006
Council chairman identifies four primary concerns of New York employers
Education, business costs, competitiveness, and economic development are among the primary concerns New Yorkers from all regions of the state identified at a series of regional meetings hosted by Business Council Chairman Linda Sanford.
Sanford, a vice president at IBM, summarized the concerns of participants in an April 24 letter addressed to the more than 200 business, education, not-for-profit and government leaders she met with at the eight regional meetings. The letter is available at www.bcnys.org/pdf/2006/regional_report.pdf.
The time is right for action both to hone innovation and to begin taking the necessary steps to shrink New York’s excessive costs of doing business, Sanford wrote.
Sanford said comments at the meetings surrounded four key themes:
“I heard from everyone that improving education — particularly in the sciences, math and engineering — is essential to preparing a New York workforce that can compete and win in the innovation economy," Sanford wrote.
There was strong support for the Business Council’s legislative proposal to fund competitive college scholarships for students who agree to earn a bachelor’s degree in science or math, as well as teacher certification, and then agree to teach science or math in New York public schools for a minimum of five years. The pending state budget contains a provision for these scholarships.
- The high cost of doing business:
“At each of our regional sessions, some more vocally than others, a common voice was heard — the high costs of doing business are putting the economic health of regions in jeopardy," Sanford wrote. “Workers’ compensation reform and health-care insurance costs were repeatedly discussed." Unfortunately, as the budget was adopted, an opportunity was lost for real action, Sanford wrote. The budget also fails to address two other pillars of economic development — the state's high cost of debt service — and the uncompetitive level of taxation that every business and individual in New York faces.
Businesses in Upstate and western regions were very vocal about the impact of energy costs upon their businesses. One business owner in the Southern Tier commented that his energy costs were 300 percent higher than his competitors in other states and unless ways were found to level the playing field, he would be out of business.
- Strengthen the state's economic development:
“Many expressed enthusiasm for developing clusters of innovation patterned after the NanoTech Center in Albany," Sanford wrote. “Hot industries and technologies identified as potential innovation clusters included fuel cells, stem cell research, health care management and the food and beverage industry."
Several regions were encouraged to look at their strengths and identify the top priorities for economic development, the letter said. “Most regions of the state have Centers of Excellence and these centers can be utilized as opportunities to encourage new or additional growth. Businesses and colleges have seen that further collaboration is necessary to bring new research opportunities to the regions and they will need to partner to explore commercial endeavors."
- New York's inability to compete:
Participants also expressed concern over availability of research funding for colleges and universities. "Our economy in New York, consistent with the global economy, is increasingly driven by services industries, Sanford said. “Yet, as some of you pointed out, our investments in education, research, and policies do not adequately reflect this shift."
Closely aligned with the high cost of doing business is the need for affordable housing. This topic was discussed in the Hudson Valley, Long Island and New York City, the letter said.
"I heard frustration with New York being at the 'bottom of the good lists and the top of the bad lists,'" Sanford wrote. “We need to communicate what is right with our state, as well as what can be fixed to make it better," Sanford wrote. “After all, if our young people are only hearing about everything that is wrong with our state, they are more likely to go elsewhere after they graduate."
One step identified by a Buffalo leader called for knowledge sharing with our fellow New Yorkers on the realities of the new global environment we are all operating in, Sanford wrote. "Highly skilled and highly motivated competitors like India and China will continue to impact our competitiveness if we don't provide our workforce with the knowledge and skills they need to keep our state, and our country, at the forefront of the world's innovation engine."
We also have an opportunity during this political season to play a role in the elections by using our combined voice for our Ahead of the Curve agenda, Sanford wrote. “The Business Council will communicate to the statewide office seekers and regional groups to reinforce the message of the impact that legislative action or inaction has on local skills, jobs and economic activity."
“While the list of challenges is daunting, so are the opportunities for making real progress in restoring the Empire State as the recognized world capital for innovation and the engine for economic growth," Sanford concluded. "Much of the progress will take place at the grassroots level – driven by your strong leadership."