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Start-Up NY committee developing tax-free zone within 3-mile radius of JCC

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Vacant properties and office space within 3 miles of Jefferson Community College are being identified by a committee of economic development officials, who hope to launch a Start-Up NY tax-free zone here to attract new businesses and create jobs.

The committee, which has met monthly since December, is mapping out a zone with 200,000 square feet, or about 4.6 acres, of collective space, including vacant tax-exempt properties and incubator space available for lease at the Watertown Center for Business and Industry off Starbuck Avenue. All space would be outside JCC’s campus on Coffeen Street, which doesn’t have room available for businesses.

The sites would let new businesses operate almost tax-free under the Start-Up NY program. They would be exempt from property, sales and business taxes for 10 years, including franchise fees. Employees also would be exempt from state personal income taxes. To be eligible for benefits, businesses must be a start-up company, an out-of-state company relocating to New York state or an expanding company.

The committee’s plan is geared mainly toward attracting manufacturers and companies that make products that are locally sourced, said Michelle L. Capone, Development Authority of the North Country’s director of regional development and the chairwoman of the economic development committee. The plan will be submitted this spring to JCC President Carole A. McCoy for approval. If approved, it would be considered for adoption by Empire State Development and the State University of New York.

Designed to assist businesses that partner with JCC for employee training, the plan includes a list of businesses that could take advantage of proximity to the college campus, Mrs. Capone said. Retail, hospitality and service-related businesses are not included because they aren’t eligible for benefits, according to Start-Up NY criteria.

“We looked at what types of businesses fit our community and make sense, and we’re focusing on manufacturing because of our proximity to Canada, the ability to import and export, access to low-cost power, the proximity to Interstate 81 and airport and rail access,” Mrs. Capone said. “We’re also focusing on businesses that develop and produce agriculture and biomass products. These are businesses that develop, produce, process and package products. Food processors, breweries, cideries and maple producers are just a few examples.”

Information technology businesses also have been highlighted in the plan by the committee, which would look to partner with Clarkson University, Potsdam, to develop “innovation hot spots” in the Watertown area, Mrs. Capone said. Software development, agribiotics and biomedical businesses could be located within the tax-free zone.

The committee has identified several properties owned by the city of Watertown, Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency that could be included in the tax-free zone, Mrs. Capone said. A portion of the incubator space available for lease inside the Watertown Center for Business and Industry will be included.

“You only get to identify 200,000 square feet of space, and that needs to be spread out within a radius that’s acceptable to Start-Up NY,” Mrs. Capone said. “It can be in the form of vacant land, developable land or the actual square footage of a building.”

Companies seeking to take advantage of tax-free benefits would have to prove they also are taking advantage of programs offered by JCC, Mrs. Capone said. Companies could use the college for workforce training, for example, or provide internships for students.

“SUNY Jefferson provides business degree and workforce training programs that manufacturing firms use already, so I think there would be an overlap” for most businesses, she said.

David J. Zembiec, who is representing the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. on the committee, said JCC’s newly launched winery and agricultural programs should complement the plan for tax-free zones. JCC launched its winery management and marketing associate degree and certificate in 2012 to fill local vineyards’ needs for trained employees. Some agriculture courses were added this past year to the curriculum at JCC. The college hopes to start an associate degree program later this year.

“Someone doing value-added food processing here might be able to tie into programs at JCC,” Mr. Zembiec said.

Other members of the committee are F. Eric Constance, director of the Watertown Small Business Development Center at JCC, Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the Watertown Local Development Corp., and John K. Bartow Jr., executive director of the state Tug Hill Commission and member of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

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