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Buffalo-based Innovation Center receives millions more in public funds

Empire State Development CEO Dennis Mullen
Daniel Robison
The state continues to provide millions of dollars to private projects on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Annoucing another allocation of taxpayer funds is Empire State Development CEO Dennis Mullen.

The Innovation Center, a biomedical business incubator in downtown Buffalo, celebrated its grand opening last week with a $4 million investment in public funds from the state. The contribution is another in a string of taxpayer awards from the state to boost the project.

The Innovation Center is essentially office space for budding companies in the life sciences and research. Empire State Development, New York State’s economic development agency, is shelling out the $4 million to aid these companies as they try to expand past their planning stages and hire more than just a handful of employees.

Dennis Mullen is CEO of Empire State Development. He says the state money comes with strings, related to  job creation, although he was unable to say just how many jobs it would be expected to create within a certain timeframe.

“The jobs, the jobs, the job expectations, the creation, the filling the building. We do not give our dollars away lightly without an expected return on that investment,” Mullen said. “There will be 20 new companies in here by year end. At various stages. Now, a company can be defined by 1 employee, 2 employees. … The total expectation is to be over 400 employees that will come into this building.”

But according to a press release from the Innovation Center, the state has invested more than $15 million into the enterprise so far with the expectation that 50 – not 400 – jobs would be created.

Mullen admits life science start-up companies that are receiving this state funding fail more often than not. And he says he’s not sure how well the state’s investment has paid off yet.

“Don’t know the answer to that yet because I don’t know all the profiles of all the businesses. But I think you’re right in your observation that they are high risk and high reward. I can’t answer definitively because I don’t know all the profiles and the balance sheets and what every business is doing,” Mullen said.

When New York’s new governor takes over in January, Mullen may be replaced at Empire State Development. He says he’d like to retain the post but hasn’t had any conversations with Andrew Cuomo’s transition team.