by Will Brunelle
Published by Capital New York on June 22, 2015
ALBANY—One of StartUp New York’s top officials told Capital Friday that the program is right on track, despite creating a mere 76 jobs in its first year.
Leslie Whatley, the executive vice president of the program since October 2013, said that she wasn’t surprised at the first-year numbers, which represent a small percentage of the overall numbers promised by the Cuomo administration.
“To me as a businessperson it wasn’t shocking that there were only 76,” Whatley said. “And I was transparent, because that’s what everybody wants, right? But then you get shot for being transparent. It’s like, pick one, guys.”
Critics of the program argue that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s program isn’t working, given the 2,000 jobs promised by member companies. This comes amid a $200 million advertising campaign for Cuomo’s economic development programs (including StartUp) that have also come under scrutiny, from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and others, for scant results.
Those are unfair criticisms of a fledgling program, according to Whatley, speaking to Capital after celebrating the opening of a Cobleskill StartUp mead brewery.
“When people say you go from nothing to gazillions overnight, I don’t know what to say, because that’s not how the real world works,” Whatley said.
Before working for the state, Whatley did a stint as global head of corporate real estate for Morgan Stanley, and the same post at JPMorgan Chase before that.
“I bring a different approach to government. I really want it to be user-friendly, and it’s gotta work, and we spent lot of time putting the processes in place to make it work, but then we had to refine them,” Whatley said. “The first year was a growing year, you know, with a couple growing pains, but those are always good because you tweak and adjust.”
Repeatedly, Whatley emphasized that there are currently 71 schools participating in the program, with 64 signed on by the end of the first year.
“The university is as the core of this program, which means we had to get the universities in, we had to get their campus plans done,” she said.
Faced then with the lackluster first report, Whatley said would-be critics should turn towards the investments promised by the 121 companies admitted to the program so far.
“They’ve committed to spending $200 million in capital. The jobs number is important, but they’re investing here and staying here,” Whatley said. “It’s going to get challenging, particularly in the short term, to measure the benefits of this.”
Whatley said that not all jobs and benefits will be seen directly through the member companies, either, thanks to companies needing to hire local accountants and lawyers, and to purchase construction and manufacturing materials locally.
“There are benefits to this program that go beyond just the job numbers,” Whatley said. “Maybe I need to go think big thoughts about all the metrics we should be tracking, too, but it’s more than just jobs.”
Whatley also said that ultimately, StartUp is going to prove to be a “legacy” for Cuomo, and that he deserves more credit for the program. She said that by relaxing agribusiness and microbrewing rules, capping property taxes, eliminating portions of manufacturer taxes and lowering income taxes, he promoted a positive image of New York as a place to form or expand a company.
“Five years ago, I wouldn’t have given New York a second thought as a place to put a back office or any other type operation, and it’s ridiculous, because I didn’t know all the assets that Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse had. Now I do, and he’s promoting all of that, and he has changed things in order to encourage people to come here,” Whatley said.
“It’s brilliant. He doesn’t get enough credit for it. As a business person, I can say that.”