FMCC supports Cuomo’s tax-free zones

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton-Montgomery Community College officials say they support the idea of developing tax-free zones around State University of New York campuses, including FMCC.

Greg Truckenmiller, vice president for academic affairs at the college, said he believes Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal would be good for the community and campus.

He said the potential businesses could develop a partnership with the college.

“Anything we can do to get businesses closer to our campus is a positive thing,” Truckenmiller said. “We are certainly looking forward to the potential of working directly with an employer that is interested in partnering with any of the programs we have.”

Jane Kelley, vice president for student affairs at FMCC, said the potential to have business development around the campus would be positive.

“We are always interested in activities for the students and opportunities for the students to be in the community and participate in things off campus,” Kelley said. “Any type of development around the campus would be great.”

On Tuesday, a representative of the governor gave a presentation at FMCC about the proposed Tax-Free NY initiative.

Matt Driscoll, president and CEO of the New York State Environmental Facilities Corp., said the proposal could transform SUNY campuses and university communities across the state into tax-free communities that attract start-ups, venture capital, new businesses and investments from around the world.

The hope is Tax-Free NY would entice companies to bring their ventures to upstate New York by offering new businesses the opportunity to operate tax-free, he said.

The incentives for companies that move to zones around campuses would include no sales, property or business tax for 10 years, and no income tax for the employees.

The businesses would partner with the higher- education institutions in the SUNY system, Driscoll said.

“This is another step forward in the governor’s blueprint,” Driscoll said.

Some of the details about the proposal are not yet available, Driscoll said.

He said the governor has been trying to increase the work force of New York, especially upstate, which has had decades of decline.

Driscoll pointed out the state unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, the lowest since 2009, and will continue to drop thanks to initiatives like the one proposed by Cuomo.

Under the proposed program, potential businesses moving to the zone would have to work out an agreement to support the school’s academic programs. Businesses would have to be new, from out of state or existing businesses that expand operations in the state while maintaining the jobs they already provide.

He said while colleges such as FMCC would draw high-tech jobs because of the programs offered by the college and the availability of the campus clean room, the tax-free zone would be open to any type of business that would provide jobs.

Driscoll said there has been success with economic development and higher institutions partnering across the state. He cited the partnerships at the Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the University of Buffalo’s pharmaceutical program.

Up to 200,000 square feet surrounding the FMCC campus would be included in the tax-free zone, a news release said.

Driscoll said the program would change the perception New York state is a tough place to do business with because of high taxes.

“It’s unlikely a high-tech company would pick up and move after [the 10-year incentive], but we don’t really know. The point is, we just need to do something different,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll said developing a relationship between the businesses and college would help keep students in the area after graduation.

He said more than 90 percent of the state’s population lives within 15 miles of a SUNY campus.

In addition to the SUNY campuses, there are 20 state-owned properties, including former state prisons, that would be included in the program, Driscoll said.

He said satellite college campuses, such as FM’s Riverfront campus in Amsterdam, could be included in the proposal.

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the proposal could provide jobs and increase economic activity in the county, but the taxes lost for 10 years are important to consider.

“Any time you are giving up a portion of your tax base, you have to be cautious, but we are certainly open-minded to the creation of more jobs,” Stead said.

He said the creation of more jobs would improve area communities.

Stead said he wants to learn more details about the governor’s program because the Tryon facility – which the county plans to redevelop into a business park – may be eligible for the program.

Fulton County Center for Regional Growth President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Reese said he believes the tax-free proposal is positive because it would link SUNY programs to new business, which he said would boost the economy.

However, he said he is concerned the proposal would create unfair competition between existing businesses and the ones that come into the tax-free area.

Reese said the new businesses could have a competitive advantage over existing businesses making similar products. He said he isn’t aware of anything that would prevent existing employees of businesses from leaving their current employer for the opportunity to receive a tax-free income.

“That may be a negative competitive advantage to that existing company that isn’t next to a SUNY campus,” Reese said. “I don’t know if that would happen or not, but it is a concern. Overall, I think this is positive for the state to consider looking at.”