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Officials defend Start-Up NY’s job creation efforts

Top officials from the state, the University at Buffalo and local companies highlighted Start-Up NY’s successes at a forum Wednesday in Buffalo and defended the state’s high-profile tax-incentive program from critics who say it hasn’t created enough jobs in its first year to justify the program’s cost.

Leslie Whatley, Start-Up NY’s executive vice president, and UB President Satish K. Tripathi were among the speakers who touted the value of the initiative, proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2013, which lowers or eliminates most state taxes for 10 years for companies that agree to set up and create jobs in properties connected to New York’s colleges and universities.

Whatley and other speakers said sustainable business growth takes time but the program has forged strong ties between its academic and corporate partners since its inception.

“Economic development does not provide instant gratification. This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Whatley said at the forum in UB’s Downtown Gateway Building, part of a Start-Up NY “opportunity tour.”

UB has been the most successful college in the state in building partnerships with existing and start-up companies. It has announced deals with 48 companies that expect to invest $47.6 million and create 1,540 jobs in tax-free zones tied to the university, a large portion of the 121 Start-Up NY companies across New York.

But the nine other Western New York schools accepted into the Start-Up NY program have just one company between them. And critics have focused on the low, initial job creation numbers for the program in 2014 – 76 jobs created statewide – as a sign Start-Up NY isn’t meeting expectations and isn’t worth the millions of dollars spent to advertise the program nationwide.

Start-Up NY’s advocates said the program has successfully spread the message that New York is open for business, has planted the foundation for further economic activity in 2015 and has begun to stem the state’s “brain drain” by connecting college students with prospective employers.

Other panelists at Wednesday’s forum included Christina P. Orsi, UB’s associate vice president for economic development, and representatives from three companies who talked about how Start-Up NY is accelerating the growth of their businesses: Tom Quinn, president and CEO of Infonaut, which seeks to eradicate hospital-acquired infections; Michelle Plesh, vice president of people operations for Liazon, which builds private health insurance exchanges for companies; and Karyn Tareen, a UB alumna and founder of Geocove, which uses geographic information technology to help cities and communities recover from disasters.