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Governor Andrew Cuomo signs Middle Class Recovery Act at UB

State provides $32 million toward UB research, Innovation Hub

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Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Middle Class Recovery Act in front of over 300 people at UB’s Jacob’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on Thursday.

In a 20-minute speech, Cuomo addressed the act, which funds $32 million toward a UB “Innovation Hub.” Cuomo talked about bringing back jobs for Upstate New York, cutting taxes for the middle class and his continuation of the Excelsior Scholarship program.

The $32 million grant, approved Thursday afternoon by the Empire State Development Board of Directors, allows access of incubator space to house technology start-up companies on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The investment is part of the second phase of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative.

Thirteen-and-a-half million dollars of the “Innovation Hub” funding will go toward pre-seed/seed investments and proof of concepts for the startups. $11.5 million will go toward outreach, support and program administration, and $7 million of the investment will go toward converting the New York State Center of Excellence for Bioinformatics and Life Sciences into an incubation space. A third-party committee will decide how investment money is spent at the hub. Grant money will be allocated over a five-year span.

“Whether [community members are discovering] new medical devices, software applications, hardware, engineering, new materials — the Innovation Hub enables us to take those incredible innovations and help them commercialize them, performing new startups in our community that will also have an economic impact,” said Christina P. Orsi, associate vice president for economic development at UB.

Orsi said the hub is “very complementary” to other Buffalo business development ventures like 43North. She said the hub is about taking the innovation that is already happening at UB’s institutions and spinning it out into new startups.

Cuomo arrived at the downtown campus at roughly 2:10 p.m., after a welcome from Mayor Byron Brown. Cuomo began his speech with a series of political quips and stories, expressing his gratitude for being amongst doctors and doctors to-be at UB.

Cuomo talked about his focus on jobs for the middle class, contrasting his stance to President Donald Trump’s approach of bringing “back the jobs of yesterday.”

“I don’t think that’s realistic. I don’t think we’re going to bring back the steel mills, the manufacturing jobs,” Cuomo said. “They’ve moved overseas, they’ve moved to lower costs of labour and they’re not coming back. The trick is to be a part of the economy that will be and that’s what people are doing here in Buffalo that’s a great success.”

Cuomo said for some businesses to stay in the state, like in New York, it’s a bidding war. Cuomo said it takes money to make money and states like New York have to be willing to invest in businesses.

“You have to make that initial investment to bring [businesses] here, for Upstate New York that was almost an impossibility because they were not getting the attention they needed from Albany, for many, many years,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo spoke after his speech about providing incentives for businesses to come to New York, referencing Amazon’s bid to have a headquarters based in Buffalo and Rochester.

“What Amazon did was what every business has been doing for a decade, it just doesn’t have the publicity because it wasn’t Amazon,” Cuomo said. “That competition that you saw with Amazon, that happens every day. That’s one of the reasons why Upstate New York suffered for so many years. You couldn’t get any funding from Albany.”

Cuomo said initiatives like Buffalo Billion are economic investments getting businesses to come to Upstate.

Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development, said the governor has been a huge supporter for the new medical campus. Zemsky said UB offers opportunities to take “promising research” and, for the first time, commercialize it.

“Economic development is a team sport, so it takes the IDAs, the county, the state, economic investment organizations like Invest Buffalo Niagara and there similar organizations like that all throughout the state. ... Everybody has to be on the same page, or we come up short,” Zemsky said.
The new hub is expected to serve UB, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Jacobs Institute and Kaleida Health. The incubator and hub programs are expected to start sometime next year, according to a press release.

UB President Satish Tripathi said in a press release a research university like UB is at the center of the entrepreneurship hub.

“Through our extensive faculty expertise, our longstanding engagement in the community, and our established record of student and faculty entrepreneurial collaborations — in areas ranging from the life sciences and material science to IT and sustainability — UB has created a dynamic environment where entrepreneurship can grow and flourish,” Tripathi said.

The act also supports a middle-class tax cut phase-in, dropping rates by roughly 1 percent for some families. Additionally, the act covers a continuation of the Excelsior Scholarship program, making scholarships eligible for households making up to $110,000 annual income.

“If you ask a middle-class family what is one of the real pressures they have, it’s how [they] pay for college,” Cuomo said. “So, we’re leading the way with that. It’s also smart for the state overall because, to the extent you have an educated workforce, you will get the jobs.”

Cuomo mentioned the Middle Class Recovery Act during 2017’s State of the State address in the Center for the Arts. The signing comes less than a week after Cuomo announced a $5 million investment for the restoration of Buffalo Central Terminal.

New York State Senator Tim Kennedy, New York State Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, President Tripathi and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn were among those in attendance for the signing on Thursday.

Benjamin Blanchet is the senior features editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com and @BenjaminUBSpec.


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