COBLESKILL, N.Y. (AP) — A long-vacant textile mill in a rural upstate New York county was just the kind of place targeted for job growth as part of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature Start-Up NY economic development program.
The aim: Pair promising companies with college campuses to leverage generous tax breaks at specific sites into innovation and career opportunities. Two years on, that former mill in Cobleskill is once again back on the tax rolls and generating jobs in a modest way, but that has nothing to do with the state program. And a review by The Associated Press found little sign of the half-dozen new companies the state announced would grow there and nearby.
The overall success of Start-Up NY remains hard to assess because state economic development officials still haven't released the program's 2015 annual report, which was supposed to come out April 1 and has been delayed past the end of the legislative session. The first year report showed only 76 jobs had been created, even as the state spent $53 million to promote the program.
Taken together, the companies that partnered with the State University of New York at Cobleskill committed to creating 315 new jobs and investing nearly $41 million over the first five years of their 10-year agreements and more later. They promised products as diverse as the alcoholic beverage, mead, and bulletproof fabric for the military.
As recently as April 2015, three of those companies were newly announced, with one supposed to join three others going into the former Guilford Mills in the heart of the village southwest of Albany. The mill shutting down in 2001 with the loss of about 500 jobs was a blow to Schoharie County, which has an economy largely dependent on agriculture and SUNY Cobleskill.
Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry said he was optimistic about the announcement that six companies had passed the vetting process by state economic development officials and SUNY.
And the promise was considerable:
— Echelon Industries said it would make ballistic material, initially investing $5.2 million and creating 49 jobs.
— USA Intimates would make clothing, investing $1.9 million and employing 87.
— Sakat Consulting promised $10 million and 102 jobs at its telemarketing business.
— Eco Convergence, a hydroponics company, planned to spend $19 million and create 52 jobs.
— Blenheim Pharmacal, an existing company, would expand its pharmaceutical packaging business by 18 jobs and invest $4.5 million.
— Royal Meadery, the enterprise of a SUNY Cobleskill graduate and beekeeper, planned to invest $225,000 in space near the campus and create seven jobs.
Cherry said much of the local plan hinged on selling the 468,000-square-foot mill, which was owned by the county for unpaid taxes, to a company that planned to lease space to companies in roughly 125,000-square-feet that won designation as a Start-Up site.
When that deal broke down, the county instead sold to Mill Services Inc., a subsidiary of New Hampshire-based Eastern Forest Products that finishes wood products for a variety of customers at a nearby site in Cobleskill. The company paid cash for the property and didn't take any tax breaks, Cherry said. Dan Holt, president of Eastern Forest Products, said space has been leased so far to several small businesses and his company is using some for storage. He said the property retains the Start-Up designation, but there are no current plans for tenants under the program.
Jason Evans, a SUNY Cobleskill business professor who oversees the school's role in Start-Up NY, said Wednesday that Echelon and Eco Convergence have pulled their applications and it's been several months since he heard from Sakat and USA Intimates, so he doesn't know their plans. Blenheim Pharmacal could still expand, he said, but the space they were looking at is no longer available. A message left for the president of the company wasn't returned.
As for Royal Meadery, owner Gregory Wilhelm said he doesn't expect to meet an upcoming deadline for hiring his first employee.
"It's a slow go," he said, noting one problem is having to burn through his own money because the benefits of Start-Up NY are tied to breaks on business and income taxes. "We get our benefits at the end."
At the opening of Royal Meadery last June, Start-Up NY executive vice president Leslie Whatley defended the slow start documented in the first annual report.
"When people say you go from nothing to gazillions overnight, I don't know what to say, because that's not how the real world works," Whatley said. "The first year was a growing year, you know, with a couple growing pains, but those are always good because you tweak and adjust."
Whatley said early last month she's leaving the job to return to the private sector.
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