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Empire Zones are a valuable tool Effort to develop depressed urban areas shouldn't be derailed by suburban concerns

State Empire Zone tax incentives are not intended to steal businesses from the suburbs and plop them into urban areas. After all, the same incentive zones can be found in suburban areas. So it was interesting to note certain suburban elected officials recently complaining that the City of Buffalo, with its Empire Zones, unfairly lured businesses.

It seems Empire Zones, established in 2000 to attract and retain businesses in struggling areas, are nibbling around the edges of certain suburban territories. Five firms moved from Cheektowaga, three from Amherst and one from Clarence since 2002 to take advantage of the city zones. Still, that's a drop in the bucket compared to the number of businesses that have been lured to the suburbs with the promises of parking and greenspace, not to mention suburban industrial development agencies working full time to bring in business.

If New York didn't have an adverse business climate, Empire Zones wouldn't be needed. The zones were an incentive explicitly put together to stimulate investment in distressed areas, predominantly in urban cores, which increasingly include the first-ring suburbs to a significant degree.

Empire Zones have flexibility, as seen when Tonawanda allocated its unused acres to Amherst as part of the arrangement to lure GEICO Direct. There's new legislation that would allow the state to designate a zone in cases of regionally significant projects creating more than 50 jobs. The state also could designate all of Erie County as an Empire Zone.

But the suburban criticism, for now, seems unwarranted. The number of intermunicipal moves occurring in this area is minor, and doesn't merit abandoning an important incentive.

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