Niagara Bottling lost out on its bid for more than $10 million in state funding for a proposed plant in the Town of Ulster. But it remains eligible for significant benefits, including a 10-year state tax holiday for employees, through the Start-Up NY program and a partnership with Ulster County Community College.
Earlier this month, when state economic development officials announced recipients of some $82 million in state funding for projects in the Hudson Valley, Niagara’s request for $10.8 million for construction of the proposed plant on an industrial site in the Town of Ulster was not on the list. But Ulster County Community College President Don Katt said this week that the project is still in the running for benefits under the state’s Start-Up NY program.
The program encourages businesses starting up or relocating to New York to establish partnerships with local educational institutions. The businesses offer tailored curriculum support, internships and other programs intended to create a pipeline between colleges and well-paying jobs. In exchange, the businesses and their employees pay no state income taxes for 10 years. The businesses also pay no sales tax on equipment and other startup costs.
The program has been a key element of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development strategy for upstate New York, but has drawn mixed reviews. Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III said many of the program’s benefits pre-dated the slickly marketed campaign.
“All Start-Up NY does is put all these things in one nice little package backed up by a $300 million advertising budget so Governor Cuomo can get his face on TV all over the country,” said Quigley.
But state officials point to 42 new businesses employing about 1,800 people as evidence of the program’s success in its first full year. Katt, who signed off on Niagara’s application after it received a positive recommendation from the school’s admissions committee, said that the program offered real benefits to students and employers.
At UCCC, applicants for the benefits must demonstrate that their business fits into one of five categories to match the school’s curriculum. The areas include cyber-security and computer science, manufacturing, environmental science, graphic technology and small business entrepreneurship. In talks with Niagara, Katt said, the company explained that its heavily automated bottling plant would align well with the college’s manufacturing engineering program, while front-office operations would benefit business students.
Katt also took exception to opponents of the plant’s contention that the business would bring primarily low-paying jobs. According to Katt, the lowest wage at the factory (for custodial staff) would be 47 percent above the minimum wage while the average annual salary for employees is $46,000 per year. When you exclude the lowest-paid jobs custodial staff and the highest paid job of plant manager, Katt said, salaries range from $33,000 to $68,000 per year.
“There’s really been some misrepresentation,” said Katt. “These are well-paying jobs.”
The decision on whether to include Niagara in the Start-Up NY program now rests with officials at Empire State Development. The agency will vet the application and is expected to announce its decision sometime next month.
Local opponents of the plant, led by KingstonCitizens.org, have launched a letter-writing campaign to dissuade state officials from granting Start-Up NY status to Niagara’s project and the group, along with some SUNY Ulster students, asked the college’s board of trustees to withhold approval as well. Those against the plant cite worries about the effects of drawing up to 1.75 million gallons of water a day from the City of Kingston reservoir at Cooper Lake in the Town of Woodstock, as well as increased truck traffic and the environmental damage they say bottled water inflicts.