‘I Love Jamestown’

A game-changer is being initiated in New York state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a stop at Jamestown Community College on Wednesday as one of two stops – along with Cornell University in Ithaca – to discuss his Start-Up NY and economic development agendas. When asked why JCC was one of his stops, Cuomo replied, “I love Jamestown.”

Close to 200 people packed the student center at the Hamilton Collegiate Center for Cuomo’s visit. Prior to his speech, the governor acknowledged Mayor Sam Teresi, outgoing Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards, state Assemblyman Andy Goodell and state Sen. Cathy Young.

Cuomo spoke for more than 30 minutes about his Start-Up NY initiative, formerly known as the Tax-Free NY initiative. According to a press release from the governor’s office, “Start-Up NY is an innovative game-changer that puts New York at the front of the pack for jobs and private sector investment.”

Under the initiative, businesses geared toward the academic mission of a SUNY campus would be free of sales, property and corporate taxes for 10 years if they move to or open on a SUNY campus. Additionally, the company’s employees would have their income taxes waived for the same amount of time.

“Seventy percent of the jobs we create leave the state by the end of the first year. That is a devastating and frightening statistic,” Cuomo said. “So, we want to keep the jobs that we’re creating. It would be great if we could attract new jobs, but let’s at least keep the jobs we’re creating. Why are they leaving the state? Two words: high taxes. And, they’re moving to states with literally zero taxes. You have states that have no income tax. So, how do you do something about that fast? And, how do you do something that is going to have a real impact? Set up your own zero tax zones, zero tax areas.”

Under the initiative, zero tax zones would be set up around SUNY and some private higher education campuses, up to 200,000 square feet from the campus.

“We’ve literally been forcing people out because of our high taxes,” Cuomo said. “We just have to stop doing the negative. Just stop forcing people out with the high taxes. And, that’s what we’ll get with these zero tax areas.”

According to Cuomo, New York state has the lowest income tax rate it has had in 60 years. However, he said despite this, upstate New York is in need of dramatic help, as it is losing business and population to other states.

“The tax burden goes up, it causes more people to leave,” Cuomo said. “Now we are on a downward spiral. That is where upstate has been for years. We have to reverse that, which means keep young people here, keep businesses here, ideally attract new businesses to come. To do that, you have to have an answer to your tax problem. This is an answer to the tax problem.”

Edwards acknowledged a “dramatic change” in the governor’s initiative, following Cuomo’s presentation.

“Now the focus is on how do we focus all the energy on trying to drive new jobs and new business,” Edwards said. “Our biggest concern was that it was restricted so dramatically initially in its conversation to just the college campuses. We have a beautiful campus here at JCC, but there are no unused buildings on the JCC campus. There are no unused buildings on the SUNY Fredonia campus. … I applaud our state government … for refocusing this and expanding it to where Jamestown, Fredonia, Dunkirk, Chautauqua County and all of upstate can benefit much better from this program.”

Young, R-C-I-Olean, also discussed the changes in the initiative. She said she had personally spoken to Cuomo about her concerns regarding his plan and campuses in upstate New York.

“The restrictions were too heavy as to how the program would work,” Young said. “For example, originally tax free zones had to be within 1 mile of a campus. We know here in Chautauqua County, for example, our SUNY Fredonia incubator is in downtown Dunkirk. It’s 2.5 miles outside of campus. So, that would not have qualified, even though we have the entrepreneurial spirit there, we have businesses starting to grow there.”

She said the governor was very flexible and willing to listen to her concerns when it came to Chautauqua County, which is reflected in the final bill.

Although the event was announced less than 24 hours to it actually taking place, it drew one lone protester. Andy Michael, a Jamestown resident, held a sign outside the college on Falconer Street, protesting the NY SAFE Act.

“It’s an unconstitutional law, and it infringes on the rights of gun owners,” Michael told The Post-Journal. “It turned people into criminals overnight. … I’m just here because it’s not about guns. It’s about the rights of the American citizens. I don’t own any guns. Not a single one.”

Cuomo did not discuss the NY SAFE Act during his presentation Wednesday.

Eric Tichy contributed to this article.