Start-Up NY Leader to Step Down

Executive Vice President Leslie Whatley will be stepping down from her position with the job-creating agency.

by John Cropley, The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. / June 1, 2016
Leslie Whatley, the program's executive vp, claimed she planned to stay just to get the project up and running. Flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVM

(TNS) -- The director of START-UP NY is returning to the private sector after leading the jobs-creation program for 2 1/2 years.

Leslie Whatley said Tuesday she was proud of the program and her role running it but had always planned to return to the private sector, and now has an excellent opportunity to do so.

STARTUP-NY, part of the Empire State Development Corp., provides tax breaks for out-of-state companies relocating to New York or New York companies that are expanding or relocating within the state. They must partner with a nearby state college or university and commit to create jobs in a designated zone and contribute to local economic development in the process. It started operation Jan. 1, 2014.

When proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, START-UP NY came under some criticism for its cost and details. It was lambasted again in April 2015, when the report on its first year of operation was released and showed just 76 jobs created in 2014. The 54 participating companies had projected creating nearly 2,100 jobs over five years.

The report for 2015 still has not been released.

“People look at the report from the first year, that’s a basis for their criticism,” Whatley said. Asked if criticism of the program’s first year and its 76 new jobs was unfair, she said it was “uninformed.”

She noted that she spent the first three months of 2014 setting up agreements with colleges, without which the program couldn’t operate. And she added that the job-creation time frame is five years — not nine months — for a good reason.

“You can’t [immediately] go from 0 to 100 or you won’t be stable,” she said.

Whatley said the 2015 report is late because so many of the participating companies are new and small, and need coaching on how to file their reports, then need the details checked by START-UP NY staff.

But she was able to provide an update Tuesday on START-UP NY’s progress, even without the 2015 report: There are currently 172 participating companies with a five-year commitment of 4,175 new jobs and $230 million in investment.

“We’ve grown dramatically,” she said.

Those companies’ progress in 2015 toward meeting those goals will be contained in the 2015 report, to be released soon.

Whatley’s background is in corporate real estate, including a stint at General Motors, during which she helped plan for reuse of manufacturing facilities that had been shut down. She said this built her interest in job creation and economic development, which eventually led her to START-UP NY, and is now leading her to Building and Land Technology, a development company headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut.

When Cuomo named her executive vice president of START-UP NY in October 2013, Whatley said, she planned a two-year stint, about as much time as she thought it would take to get the program running.

“It was always intended for me to be stepping away temporarily from the private sector,” she said.

Whatley added that her tenure taught her a lot about economic development: “I think everybody should do a stint in public service.”

The specific model promoted by START-UP NY is a good one, she said. “I really believe the public-private partnership is the way to the future. In many cases it has to be a three-way partnership,” incorporating academia as well.

Howard Zemsky, president, CEO and commissioner of ESD, issued a statement Tuesday praising Whatley and her work:

“Leslie made START-UP NY a personal mission and applied 110 percent of herself to building and running the program. Unless you’ve seen her in action, you can’t fully appreciate the work it took and the foundation she has laid to ensure its future success.”

Whatley, a native of Detroit, previously served as global head of real estate for two financial giants: Morgan Stanley (eight years) and JPMorganChase (five years). Before that, she worked 16 years for General Motors.

©2016 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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