Lt. Gov. Hochul meets with Hanover Chamber of Commerce

OBSERVER Photo by Damian Sebouhian: Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul announced the release of funds to Athenex during a visit to the Hanover Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon Thursday.

IRVING – Although Lieutenant Governor of New York Kathy Hochul admitted that no official groundbreaking date has been announced for the long-anticipated Athenex facility in Dunkirk, she did say that progress has been made related to the releasing of contract funds.

“Howard Zemsky, CEO of the Empire State Development Corporation, was able to announce that 200 million dollars were officially released (Wednesday),” said Hochul. “Because of that, the company will now be looking for various contractors and they’re hoping to have the opening by 2019. That’s outstanding.”

The Athenex project was only one discussion point Hochul highlighted during her talk with members of the Hanover Community Chamber of Commerce held at the Colony Restaurant in Irving. The overall purpose of the meeting was the relevance of the recently passed 2018 state budget to the communities of Western New York.

Hochul discussed the free SUNY tuition plan, low family tax plan, the childcare tax credit plan, the growing tourist industry and even an upcoming Hemp Summit “that I just convened on behalf of the governor,” Hochul said.

“There are more than 250,000 uses for hemp and I think this could be a great economic strategy for areas like Chautauqua,” said Hochul. “We have the right climate for it. (Hemp does) well in Canada, Russia, and China, so it’s something that is an exciting industry. It’s really something I’d encourage the farmers in this area to take a good look at when they’re trying to find alternative uses for their land.”

Hochul made a point of separating hemp from marijuana.

“For a long time, there was a stigma attached to hemp itself, even though it doesn’t have the THC levels anywhere comparable to marijuana,” Hochul explained. “We think that (hemp production) is going to be a great shot in the arm for our farmers. I believe that the farmers of Chautauqua County should take advantage of the opportunities that are now being unleashed. We’re partnering with places like Cornell and other academic institutions to make sure we get it right.”

Regarding the SUNY tuition program, Hochul said, “It’s important for people in Fredonia to know they’re going to have free education. The great jobs that are being created under this governor now require at least a two-to-four-year college degree. This year, starting this September — for families that are earning $100,000 or less, and up to $125,000 in the next couple of years, we’re going to help them out. We’re helping them secure tuition, making up that gap, the difference in what they’re able to put together from tuition programs. If they can’t reach that threshold of $6,400 for tuition, the State of New York will invest in their future.”

Hochul stressed that this isn’t carte blanche handing out free checks for school.

“There are strings attached,” said Hochul. “You have to live in New York State afterward. You are taking tax-payer-dollar assistance, we’re investing in you, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say if we invest in you, we would like you to stay. If you want to take a job somewhere else, it simply converts into a loan, which you probably already were going to take out anyhow.”

Hochul claimed that the tuition assistance will “help almost 70,000 families right here in Western New York.”

Hochul praised the governor’s family tax plan as being “the lowest it’s been in 70 years, helping 345,000 taxpayers in New York State.”

Along with the lower taxes for middle-income families, Hochul mentioned the childcare tax credit.

The cost of child care is so expensive,” said Hochul. “The average is $25,000 a year to have two kids in childcare. So, the governor was able to double the childcare tax credit. That’s going to benefit almost 10,000 families right here in Western New York.”

In order to promote more tourism and economic growth in general, Hochul said that $750 million has been allocated for regional economic development councils.

“Just to give you a snapshot of some of the projects that we have been able to fund: The Dunkirk Seawall, the Jamestown Comedy Center, the North Chautauqua Regional Water Project and infrastructure development.”

Hochul said that the “I Love New York” program has seen an “increase of over $9 billion in what tourists are spending.”

Hochul ended her talk with an acknowledgment of the difference between how things used to be for the region, compared to the positive growth experienced today.

“I’m a lifelong Western New Yorker, I know these areas. I know what it feels like to be down and out. I come from a big Irish Catholic family and I’m the only one left. They all moved away to find jobs. That era is over. We’ve had an increase in millennials coming to Buffalo by 8 percent. It used to be 10 percent out the door every year. Now we have an 8 percent increase. We’re starting to be discovered.”