Niagara-SUNY Ulster alliance could bring bottler huge tax breaks

Don Katt.

Don Katt.

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.

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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.

There are 4 comments

  1. Brad Will

    President Katt and the SUNY Ulster Board of Trustees apparently have a tin ear when it comes to listening to their “constituents,” the students and faculty of SUNY Ulster. Over 1,230 have signed a petition requesting that Katt and the Board rescind the proposed partnership with Niagara Bottling Co The partnership does not reflect the values of a sustainable economy in any form. If President Katt considers a few dozen jobs that pay wages starting at “47% above the minimum wage” to be worthy of college graduates, then we must have traveled through a wormhole to the 1970’s.
    This is a legacy that does not suit the energy and creativity of today’s associates or bachelors degreed college graduates or young professionals. The “front-office operations” jobs may translate to one, two, or three positions, but don’t be fooled: the front office is located in Ontario, California. The dollars will fly out of the region, benefiting out-of-state interests far mor than local businesses.
    And have we thought through the proposed “tax holiday?” How do Ulster County and Hudson Valley workers feel about a distinctive club of 40-110 employees of a single, preferred-treatment corporation receiving what amounts to a free ride? Is this simply “well paying jobs” as Mr. Katt maintains, or is it manufactured discrimination? How do we really feel about this?
    Finally, Ulster Supervisor Quigley may consider the Start-Up NY plan for the SUNY-Niagara deal to be “one nice little package,” but little it surely is not. It is a shaft, and the taxpayers of Kingston and Ulster County are on the receiving end.

  2. Dechen Karl Thurman

    This article is not balanced. In order for it to be balanced, it would have to tell the reader how much revenue the community loses from this gigantic tax loophole. Also the environmental impact of the bottling is only given a sentence or two. Also, why wouldn’t the bottling company offer classes in ecology and sustainable economy? Why only engineering and business? The fact is, the Cooper Lake is worth WAY more than 300 million. Each day we move towards climate change, the value of any natural fresh water source goes UP. Community activists did the right thing in organizing and communicating responsibly to block the deal. For what was being taken, a paltry reward was offered. If companies really want to invest in NY state economy, then it would not be in their long term interests to risk harming any sources of natural fresh water. However, despite the lack of balance, the information is accurate so thank you for keeping the public informed.

  3. Melissa Everett, Ph.D.

    it’s disturbing to hear comments like “There’s really been some misrepresentation” without any specific references to facts that can be verified or disputed. Who misrepresented what? What hiring scenarios and business plans are the basis for the college’s jobs claims? If Startup-NY waives taxes, affecting the community’s revenue and citizens’ tax bills, surely the data supporting applications is publicly accessible (or can be FOILED). Surely the Empire State Development Corporation will release not only its decision but detailed rationales for approving Niagara’s application (including the relative value of allowing a 30 year old company to be characterized as a “startup” because it is trying to open new facilities in New York.

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