The good news is that the Amherst Industrial Development agency is doing a bang-up job in producing jobs, although not necessarily industrial jobs. The bad news is that it still doesn't get it — or at least doesn't admit to getting it.
A recent report by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli shows that the Amherst IDA ranked fourth among the state's 114 IDAs in creating more than 11,800 net new jobs through 2010. They're crowing over at the Amherst office, and why not?
But the gripe against the suburban IDAs isn't simply that they don't do a good job — which they don't always do — it's that they often pilfer jobs from other Erie County communities and that they are needlessly, and sometimes counterproductively, redundant.
So while it is reassuring that the Amherst IDA is doing as good a job as it is, the question remains: Why does Erie County need six industrial development agencies?
If there were only one countywide agency, its performance would be easier to monitor. There would be less likelihood that taxpayers would be dragooned into subsidizing the move of employers between Erie County municipalities and granting tax breaks to businesses that are in no way industrial.
Those things happened. Indeed, they both happened recently in a single high-profile case involving, yes, the Amherst IDA. It provided about $585,000 in tax breaks to Premier Wine and Spirits to help underwrite its move from Delaware Avenue in Tonawanda to Maple Road in Amherst. About 10 new jobs were created.
By contrast, just this week the Erie County Industrial Development Agency appropriately granted a $61,000 break on sales taxes to Outfront Portable Solutions, a Canadian company that manufactures portable retail displays. The company plans to buy and renovate the Buffalo Metal site at 50 Wecker St., near East Delavan and Bailey avenues. The project is part of a company strategy to set up operations in the United States.
There are been some encouraging signs lately on the town level. The Lancaster IDA recently rejected an application from a pizzeria that sought a tax break for an expansion project. But improvement isn't the same as reform and, like the structure of New York State municipal government, IDAs are needlessly and expensively duplicative. The Amherst IDA may be doing some things well, but that doesn't justify the number of agencies doling out incentives that taxpayers must underwrite.
If the Erie County IDA wants to adopt the useful policies of its Amherst cousin, that's fine. Or maybe the Amherst IDA wants to argue that it should take over as the county's sole IDA. Either would be better than subsidizing a system that is too hard to control and that encourages businesses to hopscotch to different municipalities with taxpayers picking up part of the tab.
It's all to the good that the Amherst IDA is producing jobs at a better rate than the state average, but the government leaders who are pushing for IDA reform should keep their feet on the pedal. Those other, nagging issues remain.