How six state upstate economic development projects have fared

The massive River-Bend complex, now home to Tesla, was a signature part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to revitalize Buffalo.
The massive River-Bend complex, now home to Tesla, was a signature part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to revitalize Buffalo.
Darren McGee/Office of the Governor
The massive River-Bend complex, now home to Tesla, was a signature part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's efforts to revitalize Buffalo.

How six state upstate economic development projects have fared

New York has pumped millions of dollars into flashy new projects. Most haven’t paid off.
April 7, 2019

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it his business to funnel cash to upstate initiatives that promise the return of good jobs in once-booming cities.

Some of these projects have turned out better than others.

Syracuse film hub in Syracuse: Flop

Announced: March 2014

Money spent by the state: $20 million

Jobs promised: At least 350 new high-tech jobs

Jobs created: Though it’s unclear how many temporary jobs have been created, the film hub had only two employees as of last June.

Status: The hub was created to support a film industry in Syracuse that never appeared. Onondaga County bought it for $1 last year. Nevertheless, the state invested another $4.8 million in November to help Syracuse’s film industry, promising it was the last time. Last year, several of the project’s main backers were convicted of crimes.

Tesla factory in Buffalo: Work in progress

Announced: June 2014

Money spent by the state: $750 million

Jobs promised: 1,460 jobs by April 2020

Jobs created: Tesla and state officials say the solar panel plant formerly known as SolarCity employs 800 workers, but an investigation found Tesla employed 188 workers and Panasonic, which also uses the space, employed 279 as of the end of 2017. State officials said they have no data for 2018.

Status: Fifty people have recently been laid off, as part of Tesla’s companywide 7 percent workforce reduction initiative.

National Comedy Center in Jamestown: Taking off

Announced: An executive director was hired in 2011 to guide the project to completion. The attraction opened Aug. 1, 2018.

Money spent by the state: $4.3 million from Empire State Development and regional economic development council funding and an additional $5 million through the Buffalo Billion II initiative, plus millions more from the federal government

Jobs promised: Over 200 jobs

Jobs created: Expected to generate the equivalent of 32 full-time jobs yearly

Status:In February, the National Comedy Center was designated the official National Comedy Center of the United States. Comedians John Mulaney and Sebastian Maniscalco will headline this year’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival in August.

IBM innovation center in Buffalo: Embarrassment

Announced: September 2013, as part of the Buffalo Information Technologies Complex

Money spent by the state: $55 million from the Buffalo Billion, plus a $58 million state contract

Jobs promised: 500 jobs within five years, paying on average $70,000 a year

Jobs created: A 2018 report found 220 people worked there, though half were employed by a staffing agency and subcontractors, many earning between $30,000 and $40,000.

Status: The site was supposed to be a cutting-edge technology hub to drive “state-of-the-art discoveries in the areas of molecular research, genomics, energy efficiency development and defense.” Today, it’s mostly a notoriously unhelpful call center. Of the center’s six floors, two are reportedly vacant and others are not being fully utilized.

The Oath data center in Lockport: Rip-off

Announced: October 2013

Money spent by the state: Up to $478 million in subsidies

Jobs promised: 200, as of 2015

Jobs created: 250, as of 2018

Status: That works out to up to $1.9 million in subsidies per job created. That’s an astronomical figure compared to the $120,000 in subsidies per job offered to Amazon to come to Long Island City, Queens, which caused such an uproar that the project was scuttled. Oath, formerly known as Yahoo, announced plans last year to construct another building on the campus and add an undetermined number of new jobs. The campus’ 100 percent property tax exemption would be applied to the new building as well.

Albany Molecular Research Inc. campus in Buffalo: Ghost Town

Announced: 2013

Money spent by the state: $50 million

Jobs promised: 250

Jobs created: 55, as of 2018

Status: Albany Molecular Research Inc. was supposed to attract other companies to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, creating even more jobs. That never happened. The project was one of several initiated and overseen by former SUNY Polytechnic Institute founder Alain Kaloyeros, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for rigging bids in the Buffalo Billion initiative.

Erica Scalise
is an editorial intern at City & State.
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