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Here in New York, industrial development agencies (IDAs) are one of main job creation mechanisms for local communities.In 2009, IDAs gave away close to half a billion dollars in tax breaks to companies in the name of economic development.IDAs are known as "public benefit corporations" - they're supposed to help their local communities, and create jobs.But in their four decades of existence, they've been accused of everything from failing to comply with state laws, to simply being inefficient.You can follow the Innovation Trail's investigation into how IDAs spend your tax dollars by subscribing to the RSS feed on the right.

Albany's green economy hangs with the big boys, IDAs get served

A Progressive Insurance office was given tax breaks by the Lancaster IDA this week to renovate office space. Meanwhile, the NY Comptroller released a report criticizing IDAs.
via Flickr
A Progressive Insurance office was given tax breaks by the Lancaster IDA this week to renovate office space. Meanwhile, the NY Comptroller released a report criticizing IDAs.

First up, a pat on the back for Albany.

A new report by the Brookings Institution –titled “Sizing the Green Economy” – gives the Capital Region high marks for area employers’ forays into renewable energy. The Albany Times-Union writes

Brookings notes the Albany area is one of just four metros -- Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco are the others -- contributing $1 billion annually to the clean-export economy.

Public policy matters, posits the report. New York State’s steroid-like boost to the green industry is reflected in growth in jobs and investment around Albany.

Brookings praises New York state government for backing the green economy with hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. In particular, it cites the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and its Clean Energy Business Incubator Program.

The report is based on 2010 data, meaning that some positive developments for the area, like a $57 million grant to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineeringat the University at Albany to form a solar manufacturing group, are not reflected in this report.

WMHT’s Marie Cusick will have more on this report later this week. So check it out, ‘Trail hikers.

Economic development through IDAs: hogwash or not?

The New York State Comptroller’s Office released a report Tuesday essentially saying Industrial Development Agenciesare ineffective in promoting economic development.

Remember, IDAs grant tax breaks in exchange for promises to create or expand a business’s investment in a community. But IDAs have been criticized for straying from their original purpose of helping manufacturing companies by rubber stamping projects from businesses that don’t seem to need the help, like doctors’ offices. 

Well, as it happens,there’s news out of Lancasterthat, depending on your point of view, affirm or counter the thrust of the Comptroller’s report. The Buffalo News writes:

Three companies that plan to pump $13.8 million into their existing facilities in Lancaster received sales tax breaks Tuesday from the town’s Industrial Development Agency. … [including] $56,875 in sales tax breaks for Progressive Insurance, which is undertaking a $650,000 renovation of a vacant 4,000-square-foot section of its Transit Road offices in the town.

Yes, that’s Progressive Insurance that features Flo, the bubbly quick-witted customer service rep that’s starred in nearly as many commercials as the Geico Gecko.

The Lancaster IDA also approved nearly $100,000 in tax breaks for Ecology and Environment to buy new computer equipment. The company admits the IDA's help will create zero jobs.

The Innovation Trail will have a report about the IDA report at a later date. This is just an appetizer.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.