AP NEWS

State’s top economic development official is stepping down

May 3, 2019

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Howard Zemsky, the Cuomo administration economic development czar with key roles in the ongoing Buffalo Billion project and the Amazon headquarters deal that eventually failed, will be stepping down, state officials said Friday.

Empire State Development confirmed that Zemsky will relinquish his duties as president and CEO of the state’s main economic development agency.

Zemsky will remain with the ESD as chairman of the board and will help in the search for his successor, according to state officials, who said there’s no timetable for naming his replacement.

Zemsky’s move was first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.

Zemsky called leading the agency and working with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to boost the state’s economy “the honor of a lifetime.”

“The team at ESD rocks,” Zemsky said in a statement. “I’m so proud of what they accomplish and to be associated with them.”

A Brooklyn native who was raised on Long Island, Zemsky has been in the real estate development business in Buffalo for more than 30 years. His company’s redevelopment projects include turning an old factory in Buffalo’s Larkin District into an office complex.

Zemsky was appointed to the top job at ESD in March 2015 and is paid an annual salary of $1. Before joining ESD, Zemsky worked with the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

“Howard’s original commitment to us was for two years, he’s served this administration and the people of this great state for eight — with no compensation mind you — and New York is the better for it,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

During Zemsky’s tenure the state has spent billions of dollars on economic development projects, to varying degrees of success. Critics say taxpayers aren’t getting a good return on their investment, with several high-profile projects falling well short of job-creation goals in recent years.

Zemsky is in charge of the second phase of the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo’s signature economic development project that’s geared toward revitalizing upstate New York’s largest city. The project’s centerpiece, Tesla’s $750 million solar panel plant, has only about half of the 1,400-plus jobs it has pledged to create by next year.

Zemsky, along with Cuomo and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, led the negotiations that persuaded Amazon to build one of its second headquarters in New York City. But in February, four months after the internet retailer announced it would bring more than 25,000 jobs to Queens, the company pulled out of the deal after meeting stiff local opposition, much of it from Democratic elected officials.

Most objected to the city and state offering $3 billion in tax breaks to a company owned by the world’s wealthiest person, Jeff Bezos.

Zemsky has lamented losing the Amazon deal, saying it cost New Yorkers the largest economic development deal in state history.