Incubator hosts Hoyt for Q&A

If you wanted to know more about the state of New York state, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013 address on the subject, the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator was the place to be Thursday afternoon.

Sam Hoyt, Regional President, Empire State Development Corp., was introduced by SUNY Fredonia President Dr. Virginia Horvath who said Hoyt was there to give a presentation on Cuomo’s 2013 State of the State address and budget proposal.

Hoyt said he was charged with getting feedback on what he’s hearing back to Cuomo.

“He realizes that there’s a balance of power, he’s not a dictator. He wants to have a dialogue with the people,” Hoyt said. “The legislature is going to chime in on their opinions and after I conclude the speeches and presentations like this, my challenge, my charge, is to get back to him with feedback.”

Hoyt said the governor knows there will be give and take and added the budget and message is consistent with what the state has heard from Cuomo from the beginning.

“Fiscal discipline and integrity will continue to be the hallmark of what this governor is all about. Bottom line is that for too many years Albany was known as the most dysfunctional capital, state, in the union. Budgets were late. When there were deficits the only answer was to raise taxes,” Hoyt stated, adding gridlock was the norm.

Hoyt said on-time budgets with no tax increases are Cuomo’s continued goals to help move the state forward. He ran through the highlights of Cuomo’s speech before taking questions.

The first audience questioner asked where Cuomo was on the Dunkirk NRG project.

“He’s proposed the EnergyHighway Initiative which would, as I understand, completely repair and modernize the energy transmission system from upstate to downstate. … The EnergyHighway proposal would actually call for repairing that system and taking energy that’s manufactured here and sending it downstate,” Hoyt replied. “We recognize that this specific plant in Dunkirk is a major tax contributor to the community, but more importantly, a major employer.”

Hoyt said a decision hasn’t been made yet but talks continue and the state would “like to be helpful.”

He was then asked about Carriage House and Petri’s employees who have been or will be laid off. Hoyt said talks were held with the company before decisions were made to close or lay off employees. He cited an example when talks were a wasted effort.

“Often decisions are made even though they may put on that they’re entertaining offers. We have a facility in Olean that was competing with a facility in Pennsylvania and they went through the motions in terms of entertaining the offer that was being made from ESD. We later found out that this decision had been made long before,” he explained. “Empire State Development is about attracting new businesses to New York state but, almost as important, it’s about retaining the existing work force. We are in a regular contact, both in terms of recruitment of new businesses, but also in meetings with existing businesses attempting to get them to increase their work force. If there’s some indication that a business might be in trouble then it’s what can we do to try and help you be more competitive.”

Chamber President and CEO Todd Tranum also expressed concern about the NRG situation. He said it would be a $750 million private investment that would be good for the environment, tax base and jobs.

Hoyt wanted to be reminded of what the “public ask is.”

“To let us build the facility. To let us convert it and to make sure we have the infrastructure to get that power to where the demand is downstate. It sort of ties into the super energy highway aspect,” Tranum replied.

Public financing of elections was another concern. Hoyt said it was something Cuomo supports.

“I expect you’re going to see that taken up during the legislative session, probably post budget. … Getting both houses and the governor to agree to it is going to be a real challenge,” he added.

With the state pushing for more casinos, Hoyt was asked if that was violating existing treaties. He replied that there would have to be a change to the state constitution, a process which has started. Hoyt explained the change has passed both houses once and will be up again in this legislative session. If it passes in the session the proposed change will likely be on the ballot in November.

He said any current treaties being abided by will be honored.

“Honoring treaties will be priority because a treaty is a treaty,” he stated. “It’s a law and I don’t think it’s part of the plan to violate them.”

A Cuomo proposal to increase the minimum wage in the state saw two different views. Tranum said the Chamber has concerns about raising it.

“We have a lot of employers who pay well above that and we would suggest the focus be more around retraining and skill development to take people to that next step and get them into the higher-paying job opportunities,” Tranum said. “As you know, we’re close to the Pennsylvania border. It’s about economic competitiveness; they could easily pick up and move across the border if a minimum wage increase were passed. It’s an additional cost on their business and makes us less competitive.”

Tranum suggested waiting until the issue is taken up on the national level so the state is on a level playing field.

Two people said raising the minimum wage is a good idea.

“We’ve found wherever they’ve raised the minimum wage it’s caused an increase in innovation to try and get your manufacturing costs down,” one said. He added big corporations want to keep people below the poverty level.

“Training people for higher positions is necessary also, but we can’t have a country of all highly-trained people; we need tradesmen and workers too,” the second supporter stated.

Hoyt said training is important as not everyone is destined to scholarly futures.

“There will always be a need for mechanics. There will always be a need for carpenters, plumbers, etc. I think we’ve got to emphasize the vocations as well and recognize that not everyone is off to get a master’s degree in business,” he added.

In response to questions, Hoyt said the governor is still a proponent of local government and school district consolidation and any cost due to an increase in school hours would be picked up by the state.

Hoyt’s presentation was one of several he made Thursday in western New York.

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