Debrief: Developing, economically, with Regina Zara

Recipe for success: Thorough vetting is a key factor in the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency's strong performance, according to county Business Development and Marketing Director Regina Zara.

Nice numbers from “Report on Effectiveness of Suffolk County IDA,” a 40-page Industrial Development Agency report card prepared by Suffolk’s Department of Economic Development and Planning: Between 2012 and 2016, the IDA granted $89.8 million in sales-tax exemptions on equipment purchases, plus similar breaks on mortgage and property taxes, to 86 projects, which have collectively generated $775 million in regional economic activity ($212 million spent on goods and services from 2,500 Long Island companies in 2016 alone) and already surpassed job-creation goals by 1,000-plus. As a tool for retaining growth-mode Suffolk businesses and attracting extra-regional enterprises, the agency is clicking – and it clicks for a song, compared to New York’s other 108 IDAs (Suffolk’s “incentives-per-job” average is $704, compared to the state median of $2,300). You know who’s not surprised? Suffolk County Business Development and Marketing Director Regina Zara.

Saw it coming: We are very pleased with the results, but not surprised. Our IDA, because of its history and its thorough vetting process, really puts forward projects that have an impact on the economy and the communities. The data speaks for itself.

Best in class: Based on the report, it’s clear the Suffolk IDA is extremely effective at its job. The [incentives-per-job rate] is 73 percent less than the statewide median for other IDAs, and Suffolk is among the top job producers in the state.

Efficiency model: That means they’re very aware of how their incentives spur economic development – and how to do it while continuing to bring in 77 percent of real property taxes, which is very impressive.

Lion’s share: While they are incentivized, the companies (in the report) will continue to pay approximately $218 million in real property taxes through the life of their agreements. We’re still collecting 77 percent, which is substantial.

Pinball wizards: Economic development is an extension of the things you do to spur growth. The incentives issued by the IDA are a mechanism. To really quantify the impact the IDA and those 86 projects have on Suffolk County and the region, look at that combined annual expenditure of over $212 million, utilizing 2,500 other Long Island companies. Almost definitely, somebody you know is working for those companies. There’s your answer.

But wait, there’s more: Take it a little bit further, including the effects on those other companies, and there is an expanded Long Island economic impact of over $4 billion dollars, with worker earnings over $2 billion and 32,800 jobs total. This really demonstrates the impact an IDA can have on an economy.

Worst case: Keep in mind, if it wasn’t for these 86 projects, we could have potentially lost more than 12,400 jobs in retention and the creation of new jobs.

Straight to the vet: I would have to say one of the reasons for the success is there’s a lot of vetting that goes into these applications. Before these projects even come before the board, they have already been thoroughly vetted – so the board can provide specific incentives that are really impactful.

Target practice: The Department of Economic Development and Planning and the Industrial Development Agency certainly try to incentivize industries where the economy is strong and growing. We try to recognize those industries and influence growth in those areas.

Staying out in front: In any regional economy, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to growth. So, we closely monitor those things that impact our ability to retain companies or attract new companies here, which can range from lack of a skilled workforce to having space available for expansion.

Cooked to order: I think every case is different and based on the specific needs of a particular company that already exists here and wants to expand, or wants to relocate from some other place. We will pull together all of the resources we can from both inside and outside of economic development to create the right incentives to address those particular issues.

Keep on keeping on: There are 109 IDAs in the state, and what the Suffolk County IDA is doing is pretty impressive. Our department will continue to work with the Suffolk IDA and other municipalities to identify areas for potential growth, address possible obstacles that prohibit growth and find solutions in tandem with each other.

Interview by Gregory Zeller

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