Upstate New York used to be the motor that made the American economy hum. Iconic companies like General Electric, Corning, Kodak, Bethlehem Steel and many others employed hundreds of thousands and dominated the economies and culture of their communities.
Decades of nation-wide industrial decline, weak policies from Albany and Washington, and sometimes poor corporate management resulted in many of these proud institutions being relegated to shells of their former might:
- Eastman Kodak once employed over 62,000 in the Rochester area. Today that number is well below ten thousand;
- Schenectady has lost over 15,000 GE jobs since 1978;
- Bethlehem Steel’s Buffalo plant essentially closed its doors in the early 1980’s, ending eight decades of steelmaking along the shores of Lake Erie.
This isn’t a sad reminder of what once was, but an acknowledgement of what might be…
Because of New York’s manufacturing past, many of our key population centers have access to considerable industrial assets like international rail, road and water transportation facilities; a second-to-none skilled workforce; and abundant shovel-ready real estate that is primed for future manufacturing applications.
Further, Upstate boasts one of the greatest concentrations of public and private research universities in the nation. RIT, U of R, RPI, Syracuse, Cornell, and SUNY Buffalo, Binghamton and Albany are producing talented graduates and bringing cutting edge research to market. To his credit, Governor Cuomo has placed his chips on higher education-based economic development, especially Upstate, with an emphasis on 21st century manufacturing like nano-tech in Utica and bio-tech in Buffalo. This formula, leveraging higher education as a catalyst for advanced manufacturing growth, is credited for the economic emergence of cities like Columbus and Austin, and the revitalization of fellow rust belt resident, Pittsburgh.
However, what routinely holds our state and our region back is New York’s notoriously over-taxed and over-regulated business environment, deterring existing manufacturers from expanding and giving potential investors cause to consider more hospitable locations to base their operations.
As the clock ticks down on the State’s budget negotiations, Unshackle Upstate and its partners are continuing to advocate for policies we believe can jumpstart an industrial renaissance within Upstate’s beleaguered manufacturing sector:
A complete elimination of the corporate tax for Upstate manufacturers. This would make an unequivocal statement that New York is serious about reclaiming its place as a global leader for industry. This proposal has been met with support in the Senate and the Assembly from leaders on both sides of the aisle.
Elimination of the 18A energy tax. One of the most significant cost drivers for every industrial business is energy. Upstate’s natural proximity to Niagara Falls and its immense power generation capabilities has not translated into affordable energy for the region’s homeowners or businesses as one might expect. In reality, our region pays some of the highest energy bills in the country.
One reason is the ridiculous $250 million per year 18A energy assessment that Unshackle Upstate has fought since its implementation in 2009. While UU continues to advocate and pressure legislators for its outright repeal, we have also pursued a strategy of mitigating its negative impact on businesses, consumers and homeowners wherever possible.
This persistent advocacy seems to be paying dividends. There is indication that this year’s budget may include some form of 18A relief for businesses and homeowners alike.
New York’s perch atop the industrial world wasn’t lost overnight, and it won’t be regained with any so-called magic bullet. Upstate needs a partner in state government that recognizes the unique opportunities present at this moment in time, and is willing to work with the business community to create jobs and grow our economy.
The next General Electric, Kodak or Xerox is waiting to change the world; let’s give them every reason to choose Upstate as their launching pad.
Contact Governor Cuomo, and your representatives in the Senate and Assembly today and tell them to get Upstate working again.