The not quite magical, but mysteriously necessary, Start-Up NY tour

Start-Up NY Veep Leslie Whatley at Stony Brook this week: No instant gratification in economic development.

By JOHN L. KOMINICKI // The state’s economic development arm hit Long Island this week with what wags are calling the Start-Up NY Damage Control Tour.

And there’s plenty to prehend. In an unwelcome audit released last month, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli chided the program for spending millions of dollars on advertising while producing scant new jobs. The media quickly piled on, led by withering NY Post coverage and Crain’s coronation of Empire State Development chief Howard Zemsky as “subsidy czar.”

Lawmakers, mostly Republicans but not all, have been joining the scrum.

So time for an informational swing-through, a coordinated refocusing on the facts by Start-Up NY brass, local university staff and participating companies. Get the right numbers out there, add some context, Rome wasn’t built in a day, you gotta believe, etc.

Too bad they’re talking mostly to themselves. Beyond the advertising blitz – it’s 0.00035 percent of the budget, by the way – Start-Up NY is a relatively low-cost jobs program that awards tax breaks to entrepreneurs who wouldn’t otherwise be paying very much anyway. It preserves the local property tax-base by putting companies on already-exempt college campuses and it demands measurable investment and employment growth.

Some of our local IDAs have done a lot worse over the years.

No wonder there’s a palpable sense of frustration on the tour as Start-Up execs explain, once more, how the program went from vague legislation to fully developed rules and regs, was rolled out to universities statewide, then on to the startup universe, followed by a very careful application and approval process because one can only imagine the wrath if even one interloper slipped through, and still with 120+ companies signed up and more than 3,300 jobs and $200 million promised in the program’s first year.

We’ve found the problem: Start-Up officials believe they’ve moved mountains, the critics think they’re slackers.

Again, it’s too bad the tour isn’t exactly packing houses, because there’s a clear message here. As Start-Up chief Leslie Whatley put it on Long Island the other day, “Economic development does not provide instant gratification.”

Patience is, indeed, required. After decades of neglect, rebuilding New York’s innovation economy could take 20 years. Let’s just be thankful someone’s finally on it.

Run more ads, Governor.