By R.J. DeLuke
A state Supreme Court judge ruled in late July that the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. (SEDC), the main agency in the county responsible for bring in new business and retaining jobs, is a privately run organization therefore not subject to financial oversight by the New York State Authorities Budget Office.
The decision was handed down by Acting state Supreme Court judge Richard Koweek on July 27.
For SEDC, it hopefully puts an end to a struggle that began in 2005 when state legislation was passed hoping to bring such agencies—those that receive public funding—under the state’s purview for more disclosure of financial information and more scrutiny.
The Authorities Budget Office overstepped its power in making that determination, the judge ruled.
“We’re very pleased” said Dennis Brobston, SEDC president. “We knew from the beginning we had rights and we didn’t want to be bullied. We were doing what we said we would, the right way.”
“It’s been a long 17 years” struggling with this issue,” he said. “It’s one less thing to worry about. Now lets go out and do the things we need to do” to promote the county and grow the economy.
The state entity had argued that services SEDC provided to the county and industrial development agencies extend beyond what is permitted under county law. SEDC works with the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and industrial development agencies on a yearly renewable pact for marketing services that help in its mission to grow jobs while promoting the county. But most of its budget comes from investors.
SEDC “it is not dependent upon the sums received from these contracts with governmental entities for its existence,” the judge’s ruling said.
Brobston said, “we have nothing to hide” regarding the confidentiality of the information it garners from companies looking to come to the area.
Brobston and the economic group’s directors have always pushed to remain private and free from state oversight and freedom of information laws to ensure companies are able to complete their due diligence and search for potential properties without tipping off their competitors.
He said if a company wants to expand, for example, they don’t want information in public that a competitor could take advantage of and cause problems or even nix the deal.
“If too much information gets out there, it can affect a company’s operations and the deal,” Brobston said. “Companies need to have confidentiality.”
Brobston said that dealing with companies has a heightened sensitivity because clients have concerns about inflation. Fuel prices are up, energy costs are up, equipment costs are up and the cost of doing business has risen.
“You have to get a company that can still compete” amid those factors and they don’t want the information on how they would do that released.
“These clients don’t want their information out about their plans and their investment strategies and finances,” he said. “The judge was very specific” that confidentiality can be retained.
SEDC tries to find complimentary companies that fit with the industry in the area and are a good fit for the overall economy. ”We want people (coming into Saratoga County) complimentary to the businesses here.”
He said SEDC is working with 65 different companies on prospective projects that would benefit the county and bring or expand jobs. Information on those cases cannot be released.
Since Brobston has been at SEDC (14 years), he said the organization has had as many as 100 prospective projects in the works, and as few as 25.