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What is Empire State Development, and who is Howard Zemsky?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday that Empire State Development will take over management of SUNY Polytechnic Institute projects tied to the Buffalo Billion.

The announcement was made one day after Alain Kaloyeros, president of SUNY Poly and a close ally of Cuomo, was charged with corruption by federal and state authorities.

So what is Empire State Development?

It is New York State’s chief economic development agency and an umbrella organization for the state’s two principal economic development financing entities: the New York State Urban Development Corp. and the Department of Economic Development.

The organization's website says its mission "is to promote a vigorous and growing state economy, encourage business investment and job creation, and support diverse, prosperous local economies across New York State through the efficient use of loans, grants, tax credits, real estate development, marketing and other forms of assistance."

Empire State Development has a staff of over 450 people located in 12 offices across the state.

Empire State Development's chief executive officer, the state's economic development czar,  is prominent Buffalo developer Howard A. Zemsky. He is managing partner of Larkin Development Group, a firm that is redeveloping the historic Larkin District in Buffalo.

The job of economic-development commissioner involves advocating for Cuomo’s job-creation policies, wooing companies to locate and remain in New York and advising the administration on new policies – from taxation to land use – that might serve as a catalyst for economic development in a diverse state with urban, suburban and rural areas.

Zemsky, a Democrat, has been more than a supporter of Cuomo’s economic-development policies, such as the Buffalo Billion or the regional council approach to the state’s job policies. He and his wife, Leslie, director of special events and projects at the Larkin Group, have donated to various political causes in recent years, including to a who’s who of local Democrats and Republicans.

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