Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cuomo's upstate economic development program gets a boost 

Empire State Development Board Chair Howard Zemsky announces the $1 billion nano plant near Utica.
Governor Cuomo's office
Empire State Development Board Chair Howard Zemsky announces the $1 billion nano plant near Utica.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $1 billion high-tech development project on the State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute campus near Utica.

It’s the first big announcement of jobs since an economic development scandal brought a federal prison sentence for the former head of the institute, as well as a top aide to Cuomo and several of the governor’s former associates.

Empire State Development Board Chair Howard Zemsky announced the project with the North Carolina-based Cree Inc., which is predicted to create as many as new 600 jobs with an average salary of $75,000 over the next eight years.

The state is providing $500 million in incentives.

“We are here today to celebrate a very, very extraordinary milestone,” Zemsky told the crowd of local officials and their aides gathered for the announcement.

The silicon carbide wafer fabrication plant will be run by Cree and located at the Marcy Nanotech Center, which is part of the Polytechnic Institute. Cree will also invest $30 million into research and development commitments on the campus.

The money was previously earmarked for Austrian manufacturer AMS, but AMS pulled out of a deal to build a plant on the site in 2016.

At the time, the former head of SUNY Poly, Alain Kaloyeros, was facing trial on bribery and bid-rigging schemes related to other state economic development projects. Kaloyeros was convicted and sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison. He is free pending an appeal.

AMS was never implicated in any of the wrongdoing.

A lobbyist formerly associated with Cuomo, Todd Howe, two Syracuse-area businessmen and a Buffalo developer also were convicted on corruption charges as part of a scandal related to the Buffalo Billion project and other economic development schemes.

Cuomo’s former closest aide, Joe Percoco, also was caught up in a related scandal and is serving prison time for bribery.

Cuomo, who called the new partnership with Cree “a game-changer” and “transformational,” says he was disappointed when the deal with AMS fell through.

“When AMS left us at the altar two years ago, it hurt, and there was a lot of work that went into it and a lot of hope. And then it disappeared,” Cuomo said. “And we swallowed hard -- we said we were going to keep going.”

The governor spoke by telephone at the announcement event after he said his state plane was grounded due to engine troubles. He made no mention of the previous scandals.

The deal with Cree is structured differently than past arrangements. According to the governor’s office, the grants will be performance-based. The company must first complete the work required in the contract and hire the employees promised, and then it will be reimbursed by state for its efforts.

Some previous economic development projects using public funds have not yet lived up to their potential. A filmmaking hub near Syracuse that was built using $15 million in public funds stood empty for years until the state sold it in 2018 to Onondaga County for $1

The Solar City factory in Buffalo, run by Tesla, received a $750 million subsidy. But its CEO, Elon Musk, has repeatedly postponed the start of the manufacture of a new type of solar roof panel. The plant has so far created just half of the over 1,400 jobs it is required to fill by next year, according to The Buffalo News. A spokeswoman for Empire State Development, Pamm Lent, says Tesla is currently meeting all of its job creation goals.

The state comptroller’s office is conducting an audit of Solar City and several other big-ticket high-tech economic development projects.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.