Bob Wilmers officially took over as state economic development czar over the weekend. His first order of business as chairman of the Empire State Development Corp. is to hire a senior staff. The plan is to hire a CEO to oversee daily operations and two deputies, one each for upstate and downstate.
In the interim, Ken Schoetz, No. 2 to the departed Dan Gundersen, is the upstate guy. No word on his long-term prospects. ESD's current president, Avi Schick, has submitted his resignation, which takes effect sometime in September.
Wilmers has been a leading advocate of making the state more "business friendly" by easing up on taxes and regulations. Now he's an insider who has the ear of the governor and legislative leaders and in a position to do something about it. In theory, anyway. Albany seems to have a mind of its own on these matters.
The primary role of the agency he heads is to dispense subsidies to companies through a variety of programs, starting with Empire Zones. That program, along the nine discount power programs administered by the state Power Authority and industrial development agencies scattered around the state, have all come in for sharp criticism in recent years. There's been periodic studies and reform efforts, but nothing has gained traction.
There are folks in the economic development field who say Wilmers would be well served if he and his people made a serious effort to work with the governor and Legislature to reform these programs. It may be an easier lift than taxes and regulations. Not that it would be easy.
What advice do you have for Wilmers and he takes the reins?