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60 Seconds with Mark Peterson, President, Greater Rochester Enterprise

The state government and legislature in New York is preparing to end the Empire Zone incentives program in July and replace it with a more cost-effective program that has stringent job-creation requirements. We asked Greater Rochester Enterprise President Mark Peterson for his thoughts on this controversial move, and invited him to comment on proposals to have Empire Zone incentives convert from loans to grants if recipients are able to meet specified job targets.

BF: Has the Empire Zone incentives program been effective as a job-creation tool in New York State? Can you tell us how many jobs have been created with the assistance of the program?

MP: The Empire Zone incentives program has been effective at creating jobs in New York State. Since its inception in 2000, it has certified more than 8,000 businesses that employ more than 350,000 people. However, companies who have been helped by the Empire Zone program need to do a better job of meeting their investment goals.

BF: Do you think the program should be replaced?

MP: I don’t have any reservations to doing away with Empire Zones, as long as it’s replaced with a program that allows us to be competitive. The devil is in the details of providing incentives to companies wishing to expand or move here. For example, tax credits are fine provided they can be monetized over time so a company can take advantage of the full financial benefit through either utilization or by receiving a refund.

BF: What would be the economic impact on your region if current plans to replace the Empire Zone program are enacted in July? Do you think the changes may have a negative effect?

MP: The economic impact on the Greater Rochester Region will be positive as long as the Empire Zone is replaced with an affordable, sustainable program that makes it worthwhile for businesses to expand or relocate here.

BF: How would you like to see the state incentives program adjusted, or do you think it should remain identical to the current structure?

MP: I would like to see it adjusted. Most companies are challenged with what they can do at the front end, because there is usually capital expenditure going on to build a new plant. One way the state could help companies deal with those challenges —and create jobs—would be to offer loans. The loans would turn into grants under the right circumstances. If you make your job target, we’ll convert the loan to a grant. If not, the state would demand the money back, with interest. Under this structure, everybody is protected, and the companies can access the dollars up front.

BF: How critical are Empire Zone-type incentives to economic recovery efforts?

MP: They are essential. Every state needs incentive package programs to stay competitive. With an Empire Zone-type incentives program, a company that is looking to hire 10 people might be able to hire 15. Incentives programs help create jobs.

CAN THIS BOAT FLOAT?

We usually talk about land-locked industrial complexes here, but we just encountered a sea-going behemoth that merits a closer look.

Royal Caribbean Cruise’s newest vessel, Oasis of the Seas, probably should be designated as a city the next time someone makes a map. The world’s largest cruise ship can carry an astounding 8,600 people when it is fully booked and staffed. Here are some jaw-dropping accoutrements:

• The 12-story boat is as long as five Airbus A380 jumbo jets parked end to end. Smokestacks retract to let the ship pass under bridges.

• It boasts 24 restaurants, stocks 80,000 bottles of beer, and has its own version of Central Park—complete with trees—on the mid-deck.

• Divers, gymnasts and synchronized swimmers perform daily (unless there are rocky seas) and the bow of the ship is adorned with a helipad for emergencies.

• The crew washes most of the 86,111-square-feet of exterior glass by hand.

No word on whether Oasis of the Seas passengers elect a mayor during the voyage.

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