York College is one of five CUNY schools, one in each borough, selected to participate in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Start-Up NY initiative, to spur economic development in the neighborhoods surrounding each campus.
Initially focused on upstate, the initiative’s goal was to attract new high tech businesses to the state by connecting them with top talent on college campuses and creating tax-free zones around campuses where businesses can develop without being obligated to pay taxes for 10 years. Employees working at Start-Up NY-zoned companies will also have the benefit of paying no income tax.
“Employees hired for and whose jobs are certified as net new jobs in a tax-free area will pay no state or local income taxes for the first five years,” according to the Start-Up NY website “For the second five years, employees will pay no taxes on income up to $200,000 for individuals, $250,000 for a head of household and $300,000 for taxpayers filing a joint return.”
York seeks to attract businesses in the college’s areas of strength including, pharmaceutical research and manufacturing, medical device research and manufacturing, water resource management and purification, supply chain logistics, aviation management and wireless technology.
Ronald Thomas, Vice-President of Administrative Affairs, is leading the initiative on campus. Part of the negotiation to become part of York’s Start-Up NY tax free zone will involve student internships, he said.
Thomas also stressed the importance of connecting businesses with faculty doing potentially viable research.
“We had to identify faculty who were interested in, and are doing research that might have some practical commercial value and identified a number of areas where we thought that would be true,” said Thomas. “We then worked with the respective deans of the schools to develop some ideas.”
Faculty who are included in the plan have already begun doing research in these fields, including Computer Science Professor Shweta Jain, whose research in wireless technology is included in the York College Start-Up NY plan. She said she is interested in connecting students with startups.
“It would be nice if they involved our students so now our students get internships,” said Jain. “That’s how I work. I work for the school which is a non-profit and it’s not my company so I’m not looking to make profit. If there is something that comes up the startup company should benefit the students.”
Professor Ratan Dhar of the Earth and Physical Sciences department was also included in the Start-Up NY plan. He believes that his research in water resource management and purification can help Queens and New York City as a whole. All of the water running into New York City comes from upstate reservoirs and there may be a time when we need a water source closer to home. Dhar is looking into alternative sources for clean water in the city that he claims already exist right under the surface of Queens. His job is to find ways to safely extract and purify them.
Dhar claims that it is possible to use the underground water to heat York College while simultaneously purifying the water for use. His interest in Start-Up NY is to possibly work with a company to find ways to make this a reality and become less dependent on water from upstate. Community awareness is important, he said.
“That’s one thing, the research, whatever we do it has to be transferred to the local people through the students,” said Dhar. “The social component is another strong component.”
The major challenges lie in the funding and research. With little space to host businesses on campus there have been discussions of developing site 9, a vacant lot of land on the southeast corner of the campus into an incubator space where the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation and The Long Island Jewish Hospital network may have interest.
“In the college’s campus plan, we included that undeveloped parcel of land on which a developer we hope to attract, would construct something that could be used as incubator space,” said Thomas. “But that’s a longer term proposition.”
York plans to lease space in the Southeast Queens community and sublet to businesses interested in working in the zone. Developments in Start-Up NY should be seen within the next six months.