ALBANY – Three hundred thirty two.

That’s the number of jobs state officials said were created last year by Start-Up NY, a system of tax free zones Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his aides have touted as transformative for the economy.

The figures announced Friday bring the total number of jobs attributed to Start-Up NY to 408; 76 new jobs were created in 2014, the year after the program was created. While Cuomo and his aides are optimistic about the program, it has faced criticism from business groups, legislators in both parties as well as Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat who has questioned the (at least) $53 million taxpayers have spent marketing the program.

Despite their stated pride in the program, officials at Empire State Development, the arm of the Cuomo administration responsible for doling out most of the state’s economic development subsidies, did everything they could to bury the latest results. They were listed in footnote two on page 10 of the state’s“Business Incentives Report.”

The progress update was due March 31, and both Republicanand Democratic legislators have been hammering the administration for the unexplained delay.

The report ended up three months late. It was quietly posted on ESD’s website shortly after 4 p.m. on the Friday preceding the Fourth of July holiday, as thunderstorms (with the potential to create tornados) ripped through the eastern portion of the state.

Cuomo did not announce the report in any official way, but did issue press releases on Friday afternoon reminding New Yorkers to secure lawn furniture and trash cans ahead of the storm. (“Severe thunderstorms can occur very quickly and create extremely dangerous situations for communities in their path,” Cuomo stated.)

Earlier, the governor’s press shop rehashed recent renovations at state parks.

“New York is home to unparalleled natural beauty that is on display in our spectacular state parks in every corner of the state,” Cuomo said in a statement. “These improvements will increase access to our parks and enhance the outdoor experience for New Yorkers and visitors alike and I encourage all to see it for themselves.”

ESD officials including Howard Zemsky, the authority’s president, say they are unconcerned by Start-Up NY’s slow start, and said its success can’t be judged by numbers alone. Cuomo himself, on a plane from Cuba, said the rationale for the program is“inarguable.”

Others say it is nothing more than a political talking point, and have faulted Cuomo for failing to take on several known cost drivers – workers compensation, unemployment insurance – that make it hard to do business in New York.

“These data are the clearest proof yet that the state’s hostile business climate constitutes more than just high taxes,” said Ken Girardin, an analyst with the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank. “Start-Up NY has been hailed as a silver bullet and instead, it’s just been a shiny object that’s distracted Albany from having a serious conversation about what’s necessary to make New York legitimately attractive to businesses.”

An appendix to the report detailed exactly which companies were benefiting from Start-Up NY and where they were located. The program’s tax free zones are rooted in the state’s universities – many of the incubators are actually located on various campuses – which allow companies to avoid sales tax, corporate taxes and property taxes. Additionally, their employees don’t pay income taxes for 10 years.

Start-Up NY seems poised for more growth, assuming more of its companies swim than sink. The progress update says 159 companies are enrolled at 441 sites encompassing 5.1 million square feet. Those companies have promised to create 2,689 jobs and invest $155 million; so far they’ve invested $11.4 million, according to the report.

“The Start-Up NY report details how the program is gaining real momentum and achieving success,” said Leslie Whatley, an executive vice president at ESD who oversees Start-Up NY. “New York State has developed a top-notch model of public-private-partnerships between innovative businesses, academia, and state and local economic development agencies. In its first 18 months, the program has helped to create more than 400 new jobs and admitted 159 companies that have generated more than $45 million dollars for the New York economy. The bottom line is START-UP is working for communities throughout the state.”

Whatley is resigning from ESD after two years to take a job in Connecticut. Her last day is July 8, an ESD spokesman said.

© 2016 POLITICO New York


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