New York State’s economic development agency spent more than $200 million to advertise its programs without attempting to measure whether the ads produced results, according to an audit by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
The audit said the Empire State Development Corp. (ESD) is “unable to evaluate the extent to which its $211.5 million planned investment has contributed to achieving the purposes of the underlying programs or whether is has been cost-effective.” Furthermore, “ESD cannot state with sufficient certainty whether or not the campaign has been worth the considerable investment of public funds.”
Among other programs, the ads were designed to promote START-UP NY, Cuomo’s signature initiative creating tax-free zones on and near university and college campuses; that ad program was examined in this space last year. ESD itself recently acknowledged that START-UP had a paltry job creation and investment record in its first full year.
The audit report reveals a curious component of the timing behind the START-UP NY marketing spending: the monthly number of START-UP applications peaked in January 2014 at 5,284, before the first of two substantial marketing fund commitments.
ESD’s response to the audit, quoted in the comptroller’s report, cites polling figures showing “[p]rofessionals aware of the StartUp [sic] advertising campaign are more likely to believe the State is moving in a positive direction.”
That’s a odd deliverable, considering that the program was pitched as an effort to create jobs rather than move public opinion.