For SCCC startups, space is the final hurdle

By GREGORY ZELLER //

Suffolk County Community College was approved for the Start-Up NY program this week, but it could be some time before there’s space for the state-run economic-development effort at any of SCCC’s three campuses.

Managed by Empire State Development, Start-Up NY offers tax breaks and other support to high-tech companies that launch or relocate around New York colleges and universities. SCCC’s approval followed a lengthy debate between the college, Suffolk County and state officials over where, precisely, eligible businesses might find space on school grounds.

“Our problem is we have no available space,” SCCC spokesman Drew Biondo told Innovate LI. “We just have land.”

While other participating Long Island schools – Stony Brook University, Farmingdale State College and Long Island University – have space reserved for Start-Up NY companies, that’s not the case at SCCC. Neither the school’s William J. Lindsay Life Science Building – which cut its ribbon in October on the college’s Selden camps – nor any of three new buildings currently being designed or built have room for Start-Up NY tenants.

Reserving space in a new college library and a STEM building being constructed on the college’s Brentwood campus, or inside the new health building coming to SCCC’s Riverhead campus, would be appropriate, but there’s simply no room at the inn, according to Biondo.

“I hesitate to say ‘never,’ but as of now, all the space in those buildings is occupied by academic programs,” he said, citing ESD rules that prevent schools from eliminating academic programs to clear room for Start-Up NY participants.

Also tempting is the notion of constructing a new Start-Up NY-dedicated building on the 71 available acres SCCC owns on its Selden campus or the roughly eight open acres it has in Brentwood, though program rules nix that idea, too: Schools are strictly prohibited from constructing facilities specifically for Start-Up NY purposes, Biondo noted.

“Essentially, if we had a building with space, we could give them space,” he said. “But we can’t spend any college dollars to improve a space or create a space or anything like that.”

That doesn’t mean a new Start-Up NY-focused building won’t rise on those campuses. Following a 30-day comment period – during which officials from Babylon, Brookhaven and Islip are expected to offer full support – the plan is to market SCCC’s Start-Up NY eligibility as a destination for small companies looking to build.

“There’s always the potential that somebody might want to come in and develop some property,” Biondo said. “There’s always a chance that someone with deep pockets will want to build.”

Another prospect: The college has been negotiating for space in the still-rising Wyandanch Rising development. The school anticipates that space could be available for Start-Up NY tenants in late 2016, Biondo said.

“They’re making tremendous progress with construction,” he noted.

Other local schools have so far accommodated 22 early-stage companies committed to creating 247 new jobs and investing roughly $16.6 million in the regional economy in exchange for paying no franchise fees or state or local income, business, property or corporate taxes for up to 10 years.

While Suffolk County Community College won’t likely add to those numbers anytime soon, acceptance of the state’s largest two-year school (by student population) into the Start-Up NY family is a very promising long-term development, according to Biondo.

“You want to have your foot in the pool, if you will,” he said. “This way, any possible startup businesses that might be looking to locate in these areas might look at us.”