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Initiative turns SUNY campuses into tax-free zones for business

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Businesses are being offered a tax-free boost for 10 years through a partnership with New York colleges.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled his Tax-Free NY initiative Wednesday, aiming to transform SUNY and private college campuses and communities across the state into tax-free zones to attract startups, venture capital, business and investments from around the world, according to a release issued after a televised news conference by the governor in Buffalo.

With a goal of enticing companies to bring their ventures to upstate New York, Tax-Free NY offers new businesses the opportunity to operate tax-free — including no income tax for employees and no sales, property or business tax — while partnering with the eligible colleges and universities.

“Tax-Free NY will supercharge our efforts to grow our economy by transforming localities in upstate New York into virtual tax-free communities for new businesses and new jobs,” the governor said in the release.

“Under Tax-Free NY, communities across upstate will become a magnet for new businesses, new startups, new venture capital, and new jobs, taking our economic development and job creating efforts to a level never seen before.”

Gov. Cuomo’s initiative to partner communities with colleges would continue to build upon an already strong bond, Canton Town Supervisor David T. Button said.

“I don’t know of a community that has as close a relationship with its institution than Canton does,” Mr. Button said. “Anything that can strengthen the community and strengthen the school at the same time is a win-win.”

Mr. Button said Tax-Free NY would be a major deal for SUNY Canton, helping to increase the school’s existing entrepreneurial spirit and giving it the support it has been denied.

“Everybody has cheered against that school for years,” Mr. Button said, “and it has proven itself, in spite of the lack of support that it has received, and to get something that actually encourages it to do exactly what it is well-suited doing would be a big positive kick in the backside.”

SUNY Canton is home to the regional Small Business Development Center, which works with entrepreneurs to create new businesses.

SUNY Canton spokesman Gregory E. Kie said the initiative will give students an added advantage as they seek to start new businesses in New York.

“They also work with existing businesses to expand their markets,” Mr. Kie said. “The Tax-Free NY initiative will tie in with their efforts and will generate a lot of interest in their free services.”

Clarkson University President Anthony G. Collins said the governor’s initiative makes it “loud and clear” that New York is open to business, and the Potsdam university is ready.

“Every year, we educate more than 29,000 students across the north country region, and we want to give them all a reason to stay and contribute to the growth and vitality of our communities,” Mr. Collins said. “As part of the Regional Council strategic planning process and the collaboration among the north country higher-education institutions, our region is well-positioned to leverage private investment and new business placement to strengthen connectivity between communities and generate new job growth.”

SUNY Potsdam spokeswoman Alexandra M. Jacobs said initiatives like this reinforce the governor’s faith in the state educational system.

“This is just another exciting venture that shows that Gov. Cuomo continues to recognize SUNY as an economic engine for New York state, not only through producing our leaders for tomorrow through our education but obviously creating many jobs and spurring businesses in the communities where we are located,” Ms. Jacobs said.

But while the plan is aimed at resolving a slow-to-grow economy, Potsdam Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan said she sees it as a double-edged sword.

“I think it is absolutely wonderful as this should give an impetus to entrepreneurs and new businesses that need bolstering up to begin with,” Mrs. Regan said. “Certainly, university centers are the place that draws talent, that knows how to incubate projects.”

However, she said, there already is a large amount of tax-exempt property in Potsdam. With a 10-year, tax-free incentive, Mrs. Regan said, she wonders how long it will take before fiscal benefits appear.

Potsdam and St. Lawrence County are in need of development, and Mrs. Regan said she didn’t see any other good ways to jump-start businesses without an initiative like Tax-Free NY.

“It’s the long-term continued lack of income that we need so drastically up here for the schools and for the municipalities,” Mrs. Regan said. “Ten years, at least, is better than no end time. I would have preferred that it would have been shorter, but other than that, I think it is a great idea.”

Tax-Free NY includes all SUNY campuses outside of New York City, and designated private colleges north of Westchester will be tax-free with up to 200,000 square feet surrounding the campus included in the tax-free community.

Under Tax-Free NY, 3 million square feet of commercial space will be available at New York’s private universities, and 20 strategic state assets also will be designated as tax-free.

Eligible businesses will include companies with a relationship to the academic mission of the university and companies creating new jobs, including new businesses, out-of-state businesses that move to New York and businesses that expand their New York operations while maintaining existing jobs.

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