For many years New York has had a reputation of being a state that was openly hostile to business. Prohibitive taxes, numerous regulatory hurdles and a high cost of business kept major companies from moving to the state. More importantly, perhaps, is that these economic forces prevented many businesses from opening in New York in the first place. Successful businesses eager to grow and stay local were forced out of state as government officials failed to recognize that retaining these businesses should be the state's number one a priority.
Thinking outside of the box was not in the government handbook. However, the business culture is beginning to change under the leadership of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
At the recent State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled innovative programs designed to stimulate diverse segments of the state's economy -- both upstate and downstate. Cuomo and his economic team are also showing a particular attention to the economy of the future, specifically high tech startups, and making bold strides in reinvigorating New York's farming communities, with plans to make New York a leader in agricultural output.
One of the most important times in the lifespan of a company is the so-called "Valley of Death," the critical period between the genesis of the company and raising funds to start work.
To assist startup businesses move from concept to commercialization, the state is creating the Innovation NY Network. This initiative will assist emerging businesses currently working with the state's higher education institution on taking an idea and turning it into a profitable company. Cuomo has appointed several accomplished business and academic leaders to oversee this program, including Dr. James Simons, mathematician and founder of Renaissance Technologies, one of the nation's largest hedge funds.
In 2011, Governor Cuomo created a $35 million investment fund to help support start-up and early stage small businesses, which will now increase to $50 million with the merging of another state investment fund. Recognizing the plight of early-stage businesses, Cuomo is expanding upon those previous initiatives and plans to create innovative tax-free hotspots with 10 private sector incubators that will be home to select startup companies. Companies would be picked, under competitive criteria, to enter these zones and allow them to grow their business without worrying about the taxman.
Farmers from across the state are also getting attention from the Governor's office.
New York's agricultural market share has increased dramatically over recent years, especially in the wine, spirits and beer segment. Vintners in the Finger Lakes and North Fork of Long Island have taken advantage of favorable micro-climates and are producing award-winning wines.
Until a decade ago, New York State law made distillery operation cost prohibitive. Legislators, with some prodding from Hudson Valley entrepreneurs who were eager to create distilled spirits, came around and dramatically lowered the cost of a state distillery license and inadvertently gave genesis to the micro-distillery boom in New York.
For many of these spirit producers, getting their product to market was an incredible challenge. Acknowledging the industry's difficulties, Governor Cuomo signed legislation in October 2012 to allow these fledgling producers to sell their products at county fairs and farmers' markets.
Most importantly, the Governor announced duty free stores around the state to allow consumers to purchase New York State distilled spirits and wine tax free. Small producers will now be able to move more products, engaged more directly with consumers and hire more employees as they reap the benefits.
Governor Cuomo has also served as a champion of the state's emerging yogurt industry. As American tastes have changed, demand for Greek-style yogurts has grown considerably. The much-heralded "Yogurt Summit" brought producers from around the state to meet with the Governor to discuss ways that the state can encourage and promote the industry.
The state's economic team is acutely aware of the dynamics of marketing and promotion. One of their most innovative programs is allowing regional economic development councils to compete for state funding. This yearly initiative provides accountability and measurable data to see how successful a specific region is in executing on their annual goals.
It's always dangerous to speak too soon, but it appears that the years of instability in Albany have come to an end. Thankfully, Governor Cuomo and his economic team are giving business owners the tools they need to succeed and create jobs in New York.
The Cuomo administration's economic development programs have been working and it will be important for the legislature to approve the recent budget proposals unveiled earlier this week to continue moving our state economy forward.