Start-Up may signal new beginning

Come January, a new and powerful economic tool becomes available for use right in our own back yard. The big question, as always, is: can we make it happen?

Since last spring, there has been a buzz around Albany and State University of New York campuses regarding Start-Up New York. The initiative aims to utilize university campuses as economic engines. Businesses who locate within a one-mile radius of the campus are eligible for a number of incentives including being tax-free for 10 years, no business, corporate, state or local taxes, sales and property taxes, or franchise fees.

This puts Fredonia State University in a unique position. Besides having the campus in Fredonia, its locations in Dunkirk with the high-technology incubator and the College Lodge in Brocton make these properties and their surrounding areas eligible for the program as well.

When first announced, a number of inquiries were received by the university. When the program officially kicks off in 19 days, more potential applicants are likely to come forward.

“We have a team on campus, the area mayors and business leaders … to help (Fredonia State University President Virginia Horvath) get out the door and help with the regional economy,” said Kevin Kearns during a meeting on Start-Up New York on Thursday morning in the Dunkirk incubator.

Kearns, vice president for engagement and economic development, is the point man for this state program at the college. He, along with Robert Fritzinger, technology incubator executive director, have important roles in luring entrepreneurs to the area.

Since its official opening four years ago, many community residents have quietly expressed frustration with the incubator facility. Few cars are in the parking lot. No businesses are locating in Dunkirk-Fredonia that start in the facility while the highly hyped Selling Hive, which came in with bells and whistles, left town quietly in 2012. Skepticism about its future remains.

Start-Up New York, however, can change that image. Incubators tied to state universities are key ingredients to the plan, which makes a lot of sense. Fritzinger, Kearns told those at the gathering, was a part of crafting the new law.

“I think this is better than doing nothing and I think there is some real opportunity to help grow entrepreneurs and then keep those entrepreneurs here in Western New York because you have to commit to stay here for 10 years,” said Courtland “Cory” Van Deusen, a CPA from Lumsden & McCormick Financial Services in Buffalo while leading the discussion on this initiative. “You get a start-up to stay here for 10 years, that could be a nice company.”

Our newspaper has been critical of Start-Up New York on this reason alone: it does nothing to relieve the burden of businesses and property owners who are already here.

That said, it offers another chance to build our community economy through a powerful and respected partner in Fredonia State.

And even though this is a statewide program, applicants who are looking to locate a potential business in these communities must go through the university with Kearns and Horvath having the final say on the applicant.

“It’s all about jobs and making this a place to relocate or grow,” Kearns said.

That, without question, would be welcome news for 2014.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.