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N.Y. Campuses Become Tax-Free Zones to Attract Business Partners

By Sonya Stinson

New York state program offers businesses 10 years of tax relief if they operate on or near state college or university campuses.

Community college leaders know their institutions must be involved in driving and diversifying the local economy. To do this, community colleges are partnering with local businesses and industries in myriad ways.

In New York, the state program Start-Up NY has so far helped 61 state colleges and universities — including more than a dozen community colleges — entice businesses to start or expand operations on or close to their campuses. How? By making campuses tax-free zones for businesses with missions and activities that align with the institutions’ academic missions.

Participating businesses provide industry expertise, internship opportunities, full-time jobs and other resources to their campus partners. In return, these businesses get 10 years of freedom from all state income, business, corporate and sales taxes, as well as from property taxes and franchise fees.

The program is working: In December, the governor’s office announced that 13 new business are moving to New York college and university tax-free zones, bringing the total number of business partners to 56 and the potential number of new jobs created to 2,300.

Community colleges in the program

Two of the businesses in that group are partnering with SUNY Ulster, formerly Ulster County Community College. Mid-Island Aggregates/Distribution LLC, which converts mining waste to construction products, is relocating to the Callanan Industries Plant in the Town of Ulster. Its planned $1.54 million investment is expected to yield five jobs. Sustainable Waste Power Systems Inc., which sells a solution for turning carbon waste into energy, is moving into the town’s old IBM plant. With an investment of $516,780, that partnership is expected to create 39 jobs.

Other community colleges, such as SUNY Sullivan (previously Sullivan County Community College), are in the process of acquiring and approving applications for business partnerships through the program. With 18.1 acres of vacant campus land set aside for its tax-free zones, SUNY Sullivan is focusing on luring companies involved in renewable energy, big data analytics and healthy food and beverage production.

To date, SUNY Sullivan has approved one business applicant; that decision is awaiting approval from the SUNY system and the state, according to Karin Hilgersom, president of SUNY Sullivan. Four more applications are under review, and two additional submissions are expected soon.

“It’s starting to pick up, and it’s a little scary,” Hilgersom says.

That’s because the next steps include interpreting a maze of regulations and delicately handling inquiries from interested businesses not eligible for the program. Retail and wholesale businesses are out, as are restaurants, law and accounting firms, medical and dental practices, real estate management companies and brokers, hospitality companies, retail banks, utilities and energy production companies.

We know how important it is, not just for the Sullivan County economy, but really for the national and state economy, too.

“As a community college with very few resources to devote to this project, we’re just trying to figure it all out so we can move along expeditiously,” Hilgersom says.

As required, SUNY Sullivan’s targeted industries align with the college’s strategic plan and mission statement. Renewable energy companies fit with the college’s proactive stance on sustainability issues, while data analytics connects with its well-established program in computer simulation and gaming. In the food and beverage arena, SUNY Sullivan is linking its promotion of sustainability to manufacturing. The board of trustees recently approved a building concept called the Healthy World Studies and Tech Transfer Institute, which will help Start-Up NY-eligible businesses bring their products to market.

Internships are a key component of the program at SUNY Sullivan, and administrators hope the business partnerships will generate post-graduate employment opportunities.

“We really can’t continue to increase student tuition very much, because families are struggling right now to pay for community college education,” Hilgersom says. “So to add this to our plate is a challenge. But we are really trying to rise to the challenge because we know how important it is, not just for the Sullivan County economy, but really for the national and state economy, too.”

Does your state offer incentives to lure businesses into partnerships with community colleges? Tell us about them in the Comments.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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