In 2020, Upstate Jobs is developing a clear platform that we will advocate for to improve the Upstate Economy.  The main tenets of that platform are Education Reform, Economic Development Reform, Supporting the Innovation Economy, and Holistic Government Reform. Learn more about our platform below!

Education Reform

Upstate Jobs believes there are a few key areas for improvement in education in New York:

  • A flawed “college or bust” approach to teaching – with current curriculum so heavily focused on testing and college prep, our students lack exposure to opportunities to acquire skills that directly translate to current and future workforce needs – ranging from plumbing to software coding.
  • Too Much Administration & Bureaucracy – despite New York State spending more per student than 48 other states,in addition to our top heavy state level oversight, we still see far too many local and county districts struggling to meet curriculum needs while they support multiple six figure-earning administrators.
  • No Room for Our Teachers or Schools to Innovate – this bloated bureaucracy chokes out opportunities for innovation as formulas, mandates and cumbersome processes drive deployment of lesser technology and tools.
  • Access to broadband and technology – the pandemic has exposed a gaping divide in access to broadband and technology in the state, hurting students from lower incomes or in rural areas; this lack of access is unfairly holding back our students from their constitutionally-guaranteed right to an equitable education.

Learn more about how this platform was developed by reading our recent blog post on the topic here.

Economic Development Reform

New York’s approach to economic development has our State consistently ranked at the bottom of states in terms of places to do business, while more than 1 million people have left Upstate New York in the last decade.  How do we fix that?

  • Let private investors, not government, take the risk in picking the winnersWhile Upstate Jobs would rather not see any taxpayer dollars funding investment into private companies, a compromise position would be limiting public support to those situations where private investors are taking greater risk than tax payers. For example, investments in startup companies (having highest level of risk) should have a lot more private capital committed than public money.
  • Provide greater transparency in job creation outcomes.Just like in the business world, transparency in spending and investment is absolutely essential to establish confidence in investors, stakeholders, and most of all taxpayers.  To truly enable an ecosystem that produces outcomes of more jobs, state policymakers must begin by reporting in each economic development grant the cost of public investment per job (CPJ) that is the basis for the investment or incentive as well as the evaluation period that CPJ will be tracked.
  • Put the Regional Economic Development Councils to Bed. The REDC process began with the idea of local business and community leaders being hands on in making decisions involving the allocation of economic development resources. While local groups still review and recommend grants, the final decisions are made by the Governor’s office, effectively marginalizing local leaders. With COVID-19 budget challenges looking to sideline the REDC process this year, the time is right to re-think this process.  The current structure has REDCs locked in a “Hunger Games” competition tied to strict zip code based political boundaries which ignore the realities that commercial opportunities flow without regard to these same boundaries. Developing provisions for REDCs to collaborate with each other would help take advantage of regional efforts to benefit both companies and workforce flowing across multiple REDCs.

Learn more about why Upstate Jobs thinks this approach would improve the Upstate Economy here.

Supporting the Innovation Economy

Recalibrating our economy to focus on supporting startups and entrepreneurs in the innovation economy just makes sense. Here are four areas to put concentrated effort:  

Recalibrating our economy to focus on supporting startups and entrepreneurs in the innovation economy just makes sense. Here are four areas to put concentrated effort:  

  • Promote existing tax incentives to spur more private capital investment into startups. New York State has a Qualified Emerging Technology Company (QETC) program that allows investors to see a tax credit for up to 20% of their qualifying investment in startups – but the program is rarely used as too few investors even know about it. As detailed in testimony provided before the NY State Assembly, with no resources allocated to inform investors or administer the QETC program, we miss the opportunity get more private investors taking the lead in supporting startups in their communities. Should the State really want to get the engines firing, a greater percentage of tax credit could be offered if the QETC is located in Upstate.
  •  Make program investments that advance collaboration across boundaries. With the billions of dollars we invest in economic development each year, pitifully few resources are allocated to the core reason our best high growth entrepreneurs leave Upstate to launch startups elsewhere: their perceived difficulty in getting connected to the people willing and able to help them here. New York State’s penchant for doling out grants with beneficiaries limited to specific zip codes or institutions have the unintended consequence of programs having too narrow a constituency and organizations battling for grants with a zero sum game mentality – all of which impede the region wide collaboration we need to accelerate startup progress. Better to tie grants to initiatives that explicitly advance collaboration across the region’s institutions by connecting entrepreneurs to people who can help them.  
  • Research innovation economy and commit to economic development transparency. Some people evolve their thinking about innovation economy startups after stumbling into a friend, relative, or colleague sharing an example of a young company growing from nothing to a major employer in a much shorter time period than traditional businesses.  Just think about how much better we could make decisions on public policy, resource allocation, and even private investment if we were to know more precisely things like: Where are innovation economy companies located? What do their hiring, job growth, and salary trends look like? Where are entrepreneurs transitioning from college campuses to start new innovation economy companies? What sources of private capital are helping these companies grow? And as profiled in our last policy post, our government has to be totally transparent with both the data and the tracking of outcomes once our tax payer funds are being used to benefit private companies.
  • Use power to convene to get input – then do something with it.  One of the most powerful tools of elected leadership is the ability to convene.  Elected leaders in Upstate New York should be seeking out investors, entrepreneurs, and innovation economy executives to learn what they need, and also bring together the diverse stakeholders that can make a difference.  True leadership comes from seeking a diversity of input and adjusting as needed to ensure forward progress.  With our existing base of innovation economy employers and a vast array of STEM universities, there is no shortage of smart people Upstate who can contribute, but no leaders are asking them to do so. We need public officials who are proactive in reaching out to innovation economy leaders to get that input – and then actually do something with it.

Learn more about why supporting startups in the innovation economy will mean success in the Upstate Economy here.

Holistic Government Reform

Our final 2020 campaign plank is holistic government reform, wherein we call for a return to co-equal branches to government, an overhaul of State Ethics laws and system, term limits, and ballot access reform.

  • The Legislature Needs Rescind the Governor’s Emergency Powers.  When the COVID 19 pandemic crippled New York in March of 2020, there was little debate that it was the right time to provide emergency powers to the Governor to allow a fast, efficient, and clear response to the disaster at hand.  But now than more 6 months later, our economy has been brought to its knees and with no legislative oversight, thousands of seniors have died in nursing homes.  Today, we’ve fewer than 1% of positive tests daily statewide for more than a month, yet we still have one person making all governmental decisions.  Forget about the fact that’s too much for any one person to bear, think about how dangerous this is for our democracy.  This is no longer one party rule – it’s one man rule.  Just because New York is the Empire State doesn’t mean it should be run by an emperor.  To get New York functioning as a healthy democracy, UJP urges the legislature to rescind the Governor’s emergency powers immediately and get back to work!
  • Real Ethics Reform and an Independent JCOPE.  Remember not long ago when the Governor’s top aide was convicted of corruption by running a political campaign out of the Governor’s office?  Despite this massive abuse of the public trust, absolutely nothing has changed.  JCOPE, the public agency charged with enforcing ethics rules and seeking public integrity, has been rendered yet another extension of the powers of leadership as they seem to be more focused on keeping the powers that be happy than enforcing the law.  For example, less than a year ago, a JCOPE Commissioner was contacted by Speaker Heastie after a heated exchange with the Governor.   This followed an incident in which the Speaker’s Counsel reached out to a Commissioner on a supposedly confidential matter.  For JCOPE to truly do their jobs, that entity should instead be led by an independently elected leader, who is empowered to hire their own staff and conduct their business without meddling from the very political leaders they could be investigating.  UJP proposes JCOPE be converted into an independent agency, similar to the Comptroller and Attorney General’s office, so as to ensure independence in ethics.
  • Broaden Opportunities for Ballot Access.  New York is one of the few states in the US to allow Fusion Voting, meaning candidates can combine their vote totals on all ballot lines as one.  This allows for a variety of political viewpoints to be expressed at the ballot box.  More importantly, it allows a voter to support a candidate, rather than a Party.  Recently, despite the Court throwing out the unconstitutional restrictions imposed on ballot access by the Campaign Finance Commission, the Governor and Legislature enacted new restrictions to ballot access in last year’s budget.  To become a political Party in New York prior to 2019, an organization needed to gather 15,000 signatures for a candidate for Governor, then have that candidate get at least 50,000 votes in the gubernatorial election.  While we won’t speculate as to the Governor’s intentions on these actions, in the 2020 budget, that threshold was raised, requiring 45,000 signatures to get on the ballot, then 130,000 votes in the election to become a Party. This excessive increase not only squelches independent political thought, it also would force Parties and organizations to run candidates for President, whether they want to or not. UJP proposes the legislature repeal the actions in the 2020 budget making it harder to become a Party, instead reducing signature minimums to 10,000 statewide and 50,000 votes in the election.

New York State government is broken – but it’s not beyond repair.  Read more about our government reform platform here.