Meanwhile, Albany tells science: We’ve got your back

Signs of life: The Trump Administration might not understand the economic-development value of life-sciences research, but Albany does.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Even as the Trump Administration levels its big guns at national funding for scientific research, New York State is doubling down on its commitment to life sciences.

Leaders of business and medical-research organizations across the state are hailing Albany’s 10-year, $620 million plan to turn New York into one big life-sciences cluster. The economic-development strategy was championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and adopted by the state Legislature this week as part of the 2017-18 state budget.

Also part of the state budget package: $5 million in funding for state-run incubators and startup-friendly “Hot Spot” locations through the New York State Certified Business Incubator and Innovation Hot Spots program.

Marc Alessi: That hit the (Hot) Spots.

The $5 million matches current spending levels and is a solid score, considering “early signs were not good” for the the 10 Innovation Hot Spots – one for each of the state’s economic zones, including the Long Island High Technology Incubator at Stony Brook University – according to Marc Alessi, executive director of the Business Incubator Association of New York State Inc.

“Working together and with the aid of our supporters in the Legislature, we were able to maintain incubator and Hot Spots operations funding at the $5 million level,” noted Alessi, an attorney and former New York State Assembly member.

Business Incubator Association activists also had a hand in convincing Albany to eliminate proposed changes to the Start-Up NY program that would have ended automatic inclusion in the program for incubator and hotspot graduates.

Alessi – a former executive director of the Long Island Angels Network and current CEO of Shirley-based MRI/PET scanning startup SynchroPET, among several other irons in Long Island’s entrepreneurial fires – ranked that Start-Up NY rules redux another significant achievement for the regional innovation economy.

“Many of us pointed out the negative effect of these changes, especially now as the program is beginning to have an impact on our innovation ecosystem in New York State, in large part thanks to graduates from incubators and Hot Spots,” Alessi said this week.

But for innovators on Long Island and across the Empire State, the biggest news of the week – particularly in light of the titanic beating President Donald Trump’s first federal budget proposal puts on the national scientific-research community – was Albany’s heavy-nine-figure laser-focus on life sciences.

The plan – strongly supported by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council and business-development organizations in New York City and Westchester – includes a $320 million stipend for services, loans and grants covering life-sciences programs, including funding for lab space, equipment purchases and general venture-capital purposes.

The $620 million package also includes research-and-development-based tax credits of up to $500,000 per year for qualifying companies, with a sliding scale based on number of employees and other qualifiers.

In a joint statement issued this week, New York economic-development leaders projected $3 billion in annual economic activity and the ultimate creation of 24,000 new jobs through statewide life-sciences R&D initiatives – none of which would be possible without Albany’s initiative, which directly contradicts the president’s plan to gut scientific funding in favor of a military buildup.

Trump’s FY2018 federal budget proposal – which slashes National Institutes of Health funding by $5.8 billion and cuts the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent, among other scientifically shortsighted line items – has been labeled everything from “backward looking” (by SBU Economic Development Director Ann-Marie Scheidt) to “morally obscene” (by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont).

Kevin Law: Real ROI in academic medicine.

The fate of that 2018 federal tab is yet to be decided. But whatever happens in Washington, life-sciences research will be alive and well in New York, much to the relief of several key economic-development insiders.

Alessi expressed gratitude for the Innovation and Incubator Hot Spots funding to a host of lawmakers, including State Sens. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Bridgehampton). They “listened and worked with us to ensure that these economic-development programs will continue to serve the people of the State of New York,” Alessi noted.

If Trump’s budget looks backward, Albany has made a “forward-looking commitment to life sciences,” agreed Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.

“This puts New York at the forefront of one of the world’s fastest-growing industries,” Wylde said Tuesday, adding the $620 million package “leverages the enormous assets of our medical-research institutions to generate new businesses and jobs.”

Albany’s focus on scientific research is nothing new, noted Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association and co-chairman of the LIREDC, but it’s especially gratifying now.

“New York has invested heavily in basic research over the years,” Law said. “But with Governor Cuomo’s new program, we are moving to support the growth of businesses that will generate a real return on that investment for the state and for our great academic medical centers and research institutions.”