Yates County gets an Empire Zone

Gwen Chamberlain
The Empire Zone in Penn Yan is outlined in red

After several years of studies, reports, applications and lobbying, Yates County has been added to the list of New York counties that can now offer economic development incentives to businesses expanding and adding jobs in certain areas of the county.

Four distinctly-defined Empire Zones in Yates County were approved last Thursday by the Empire State Development Corporation. Yates County is one of the last three counties in the state to have its zone approved.

The zones are:

• Penn Yan: This is the largest zone in the county and includes the Industrial Park off North Avenue, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital, Horizon Business Park, Keuka Business Park, most of Main Street, and the airport.

• Dundee: This zone includes Seneca Street, including the Dundee Foods plant, some of Union Street, Water, Main and Millard Streets.

• Keuka Park: This zone includes an area around Keuka College.

• Dresden/Torrey: Spanning from the southern edge of the village toward Perry Point, this zone includes the AES coal-fired power plant and Ferro.

Steve Griffin, Director of Yates County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), says the Empire Zone is limited to two square miles divided between the four zones.

A business located in one of those zones may qualify for certification by demonstrating it will create new jobs and will operate within the zone’s development plan, among other things.

According to information provided by State Sen. George Winner’s office, The Empire Zones program was established in 1986. The zones originally were called “economic development zones.”  Intended to bolster areas with pockets of poverty, high unemployment, dilapidated industrial and commercial facilities and shrinking tax bases, businesses located within the zones receive significant tax reductions through a range of credits on items, including wages, capital investment and property taxes.

The program has come under fire lately in other counties around the state, where businesses were not expanding or adding the number of jobs they said they planned to.

Now, the regulations for the zones have been changed to include more limits on the benefits and stricter requirements for meeting the certification qualifications.

A report released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli says many of the established Empire Zones around the state are not adequately measuring outcome and job growth.

The most recent report follows up on a 2004 Comptroller’s office report which found Empire Zones were poorly administered, kept inadequate records, and did not hold firms accountable for actually producing jobs, according to a statement released by DiNapoli’s office Feb. 11.

The follow up report is based on audits at eight zones that were cited in 2004, including the cities of Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers.

So, while other counties face adjusting their programs to fit the new standards and expectations, Yates County can build its program based on the changes.

Griffin says there are a number of details that need to be finalized, including hiring an Empire Zone Coordinator, and establishing a board of directors.

That board must include representation from education, business, organized labor, acommunity organization, financial institution, and a resident of the Empire Zone.

Griffin was not part of the local team that organized the applications and documentation for the zone, so he’s spending time learning more about the Yates County zone, and re-acquainting himself with the requirements for coordinating an Empire Zone.

Griffin and Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy will be making presentations to municipalities and groups around the county about the Empire Zone.

The addition of the Yates County zones and those in two other counties

— Putnam and Hamilton — means every county in the state has a designated Empire Zone.

For more details about the New York State program, visit www.nylovesbiz.com.