Let’s just say it: Western New York is fortunate to have Howard Zemsky as a highly placed public servant wielding tremendous influence over the state’s economic development and, now, over Western New York’s in particular.
Zemsky is a successful developer whose vision produced the urban success of Larkinville, remaking a depressed and forgotten part of the city into a lively and thriving district. He was already a busy and public-spirited New Yorker – also guiding the reuse of Buffalo’s historic Richardson Olmsted Complex, for example – when he became co-leader of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, created by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Not long after that he became head of Empire State Development, New York’s top economic development agency and an umbrella organization for the state’s two principal economic development financing entities. In that, he has been a leading figure in all of the state’s economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo’s far-sighted effort to restart the economy of Western New York.
Now, he is even more directly involved in the Buffalo Billion, and that can only play to the region’s benefit. Alain Kaloyeros, then president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute and a close ally of Cuomo, had been leading that effort – which had slowed to a crawl in some areas – but Kaloyeros was charged last month with state and federal corruption offenses. With that, responsibility for all projects previously overseen by SUNY Polytechnic was transferred to Empire State Development, led by Zemsky. Kaloyeros resigned as president of SUNY Polytechnic last week.
Those projects include the Athenex plant promised for Dunkirk. Leaders of the Buffalo-based company signaled their frustration with the lack of progress this summer, saying they would have to consider other options to protect their business interests. With ESD and Zemsky taking over from SUNY Polytechnic and Kaloyeros, Flint Besecker, Athenex’s chief operating officer, has said he is pleased with the “collaborative nature” of the new leadership.
To a great extent, that is due to Zemsky’s low-key approach and his rock-solid reliability as a partner. He brings a businessman’s sensibility to his work and he does it for a salary of $1 a year.
In all of that, Zemsky is a public servant in a literal sense of the words. He has made a gift of his remarkable talents to the entire state and is able now, through necessary changes, to play an even bigger role for Western New York. This is turning into a very good time in Buffalo’s history.