It’s no secret that the term “economic development” has been painted with a negative brush recently.
Only in New York state could we look at Amazon HQ2, with a $5 billion investment, at least 25,000 jobs, billions in annual salaries and new tax revenue, and make it a negative thing. Perhaps the lens through which we view economic development is too narrow, and the definition used by elected officials and the media is inaccurate.
“Tax dollars per job created” is simply one metric that captures the broad work being done. However, even using that limited definition, our efforts in New York have been successful. In December 2010, the state’s unemployment rate was 9.4 percent. Today, it stands at 3.9 percent. This is in no small part due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ground-up economic development strategy, and the work being done by economic developers and, in particular, local industrial development agencies.
IDAs are economic drivers and job creators. A 2017 report by the Office of the State Comptroller shows that New York’s 109 IDAs reported 4,484 active projects that created or retained 561,217 jobs and generated $88.7 billion in project investment. What they don’t tell you is that those projects created $500 million in new tax revenue for their communities, not to mention the salaries for more than 550,000 jobs, the income tax generated, and the economic activity that goes back into the local economy. IDAs don’t take revenue off the tax rolls; they increase revenue for local communities.
Get in your car and drive around. Odds are you will see a project that was either supported by or worked on by your local IDA. Take, for example, Dick’s Sporting Goods in Conklin, which involves $140 million in project investment, 500 new jobs and an annual payroll of $20 million. Look at the 50 Front Street project, which involved demolishing a vacant nursing home to make way for a $31 million project and 122 market-rate apartments in Binghamton. Consider the $23 million transformation of the former Ansco Camera Factory into 100 market-rate apartments in downtown Binghamton. None of these projects would have happened without the support of economic developers, specifically the Broome County IDA.
Economic development agencies, and in particular IDAs, are being unfairly targeted. Economic development is not corporate welfare. It is a public/private, and in many cases academic, partnership to increase the health, wealth and prosperity of our communities. That’s what we called it when our economy was struggling, and we turned to the economic development community for help.
New York’s population is declining, specifically upstate. We need to build livable and workable communities to attract and retain young talent. That means investing in jobs, infrastructure, workforce development and housing. That’s exactly what your local IDA and economic developers are doing. Let’s make sure Albany allows them to continue doing this important work.
Ryan Silva is executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council, New York state’s private, nonprofit economic development organization.
Economic development is not corporate welfare. It is a public/private, and in many cases academic, partnership to increase the health, wealth and prosperity of our communities.