Monthly Archives: February 2014

Clarkson University’s Beacon Institute offers unique M.S. degree for technical professionals

Business Council member Clarkson University’s Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries offers employers a unique management development opportunity for employees with technology and engineering backgrounds — an M.S. in engineering management.

The 21-month, 30 credit program is a hybrid of intensive weekend of classes at the Beacon Institute, in Beacon, N.Y. or Burlington, Vt., at the beginning of the semester and a combination of online classes some of which are hosted by instructors and others that are self-guided.

The focus of the program grounds technical professionals in both engineering innovation and best practices in business.

Advisory partners with Clarkson University in the Beacon Institute program include IBM and the National Society of Professional Engineers.

The first cohort of students in the program will be entering the final, capstone, phase this May. The capstone phase allows students to apply what they have learned in a project that they complete in conjunction with their employer. Several members of The Business Council including IBM and Central Hudson Gas and Electric are sponsoring employees in the program.

You can get more information about the program here.

A closer look at health plan provider networks

Last week, The New York State Conference of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans (NYSCOP) released an infographic titled, “A Closer Look at Health Plan Provider Networks,” which details the benefits and disadvantages of in-network and out-of-network health insurance coverage.

“Concerns related to affordable health care are being discussed by many families and small business owners across New York,” said Deborah Fasser, spokeswoman for NYSCOP. “One topic of particular concern is understanding your health plan’s doctor and hospital network.”

According to the NYSCOP analysis, when a provider is “in network” they agree to receive “payment in full” from the health plan; when a provider is not in a plan’s network, they are free to charge a consumer any amount they wish. This results in consumers paying more for coverage, and oftentimes not knowing the amount until care has already been provided.

Likewise, requiring plans to include an out-of-network benefit may not be in the best interest of the consumer as it will only increase costs.

“Required or “mandated” benefits always increase the cost of health insurance premiums,” said Fasser. “This is especially the case with out-of-network coverage. Forcing health plans to offer out-of-network benefits will increase health insurance premiums for all consumers by an estimated 28 percent. This is something the public should be aware of. ”

The Business Council continues to oppose health insurance mandates that drive up the cost of healthcare for all New Yorkers.  Ongoing efforts to mandate out-of-network coverage and payments would result in double-digit premium increases, a sever burden on employees and employers alike.

First Robotics Competitions teach teamwork

The Business Council of New York State is promoting the varsity Sport for the MindTM, the First Robotics Competition (FRC). FRC combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Teams of high school students are challenged to design, build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. Organizers describe FRC as being “as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.” According to the FRC website, “Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team ‘brand,’ hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.”

Two Business Council members — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rochester Institute of Technology are hosting regional competitions in March. Other competitions will take place regionally.

At these regional competitions the objective will be to get the robot to carry a 2 ft. ball from one end of the field to the other, passing the ball from one robot to the next.

In addition to learning from building a robot, the students learn the importance of working together as part of a team.

Businesses can support teams with mentors, coaches or sponsorships. If you would like to get involved please contact The Business Council.

If you would like to read more about what students in the Capital Region are doing to get ready for the RPI competition, you can read reporter Andrew Bream’s story about the competition in the Troy Record.


Education reform a priority for The Business Council

Although last week the New York State Board of Regents approved measures to adjust Common Core implementation in New York state — the class of 2022, instead of the class of 2017, will be the first to be required to pass the more rigorous requirements — The Business Council continues to support implementation and the higher academic standards, without delay.

The truth is these standards are much needed to help close the skills gap that exists between recent high school graduates and good paying, in-demand jobs. The Business Council is not the only organization that knows this crucial need.

A recently New York Times editorial, The Common Core in New York, highlights that although the rollout has been bumpy, giving  students a better chance at a good education, is needed and that the state “cannot afford to let this project founder.”

The New York Post recently highlighted how Common Core can help New York students who currently “trail their counterparts in several Asian countries and Russia on math tests.” The article notes that their competitiveness on science exams is even worse.

State Education Commissioner John King also received a show of support from Assemblyman Karim Camara, chair of the state Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, chair of the state Senate Puerto Rican and Latino Caucus. City and State quoted a joint statement from the legislators in an article who said, “While this has been an emotional debate with marked differences in public policy, there is no doubt that Commissioner King remains a public servant devoted to improving the education and welfare of New York’s kids. We will continue to work towards closing the achievement gap and other urgent issues with Commissioner King and other stakeholders.”

Governor Cuomo also recently announced a panel that will recommend improvements in the state’s rollout of the Common Core. The panel will be led by Business Council member Stan Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship & corporate affairs and president of IBM’s Foundation, who has also led the pioneering Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) concept.

The Business Council of New York State encourages all businesses to sign an open letter of support for Common Core Learning Standards. Heather C. Briccetti Esq., president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc. recently said, “The Business Council of New York State strongly supports the higher academic standards in the Common Core and believes that the state must continue to implement the curriculum without delay.  We also recognize that several corrective actions must be taken in order to be sure that there is a smooth transition to these new, more rigorous standards.

In other education news, a pro-charter schools group, Families for Excellent Schools, launched a campaign opposing New York City Mayor de Blasio’s recent reduction of $210 million in capital as well as a new charter rent policy. The Business Council is a staunch advocate for school choice. Charter schools offer parents and students an alternative to poorly performing public schools. The new Mayor’s efforts to place a moratorium on co-location places city charter schools — most of which fall in high-needs districts — in a position of fiscal uncertainty.

Business Council member, Time Warner Cable News’ blog, State of Politics, recently quoted Rafael Lois, the father of two Girls Prep Bronx scholars who appears in a Families for Excellent Schools video, “The de Blasio administration has said parent voices matter to them, but they seem to be discounting ours. My daughters are receiving an excellent education, which is their moral and legal right, and I will do everything in my power to make sure they continue to have these opportunities.”


Six is the new four

Time magazine writer Rana Foroohar explains why the nation’s top business leaders, educators and elected officials are on the same page regarding an innovative education reform — the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) concept pioneered by Business Council member IBM.

The article in the current issue is titled “The school that will get you a job.” It describes the way the P-Tech concept blends a strong academic core with elements of other promising education reform models and something unique — the promise of a good-paying job at graduation.

Foroohar writes, “P-Tech picks up certain elements of the ‘career academy’ model, which creates high schools with links to particular industries, like finance or telecommunications, and adds a dash of the ‘early college high school’ model, where small, specialized schools in deprived socio­economic areas allow kids to complete some college credits in high school, reducing the cost of a degree later and improving their chances of graduating. It throws in corpo­rate help in curriculum development and mentoring to ensure employable workers.”

“But P-Tech adds a final, crucial twist, that job guarantee for graduates. ‘“The P‑TECH model takes the best of these other ideas and then goes a step further by bridg­ing the jobs divide,”’ says Harvard educa­tion professor Robert Schwartz, author of the seminal 2011 Pathways to Prosperity re­port on career training and school reform, who lauds the model. ‘I give IBM a lot of credit for that.’”

The promise of a job, that is such a critical part of what makes the P-TECH schools unique, is the result of how they were conceived by Stanley Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs. Litow, a former New York City schools deputy chancellor, brought together IBM, the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York to create the first P-Tech school in Brooklyn, as a means to help the company close a skills gap that was preventing it from hiring workers with middle skills — jobs requiring less than a four-year degree but more than a high school diploma.

The Time article also says many of IBM’s unfilled positions are in the middle-skilled area. This underscores an interesting truth about the American economy: despite all the press about the middle class shrinking, middle-income jobs are actually forecast to grow. Accord­ing to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, middle-skilled jobs with a technology bent — which include positions like entry-level software engineers, medical tech­nicians and high-tech-manufacturing workers — will increase by 17.5 percent from 2010 to 2020, just as fast as high-skilled jobs and far faster than lower-end ones. The P-TECH concept of combining the traditional four years of high school with two years of post-secondary education is turning into the six-is-better-than-four movement. IBM has started eight P-Tech schools including one in Brooklyn. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has promised ten P-Tech schools around the state, in other parts of the country, education-reform-minded mayor and governor have P-TECH plans of their own.

Foroohar suggests the P-TECH model may be the next seminal moment in public education, as significant as post-World War II-requirement making high school education mandatory.

A companion video produced by Time provides an interesting look into the Brooklyn P-Tech academy. You watch it by clicking here.

Scaffold Law Reform at The Capitol

Hundreds of advocates from various professions represented from every corner of New York State, convened at the State Capitol in Albany, NY on Tuesday, February 11 for Scaffold Law Reform Advocacy Day, to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo and Legislators to reform New York’s Scaffold Law.

Reforming the century-old Scaffold Law, which has bipartisan support in both houses, will allow Minority/ Women Owned Businesses to remain open and communities to build much needed classrooms and hospitals.

“The Scaffold Law drives up the cost of every public and private construction project in New York because building owners and contractors are held “absolutely liable” for “elevation related injuries,” regardless of the facts of the case, or the real liability for the injury. The time has come to change this antiquated law,” said, Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., President and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc.

The Scaffold Law is an anachronism that continues to exist at the expense not only of the construction industry, but also the economy, state and local governments, school districts, small businesses, farmers and taxpayers. Public projects, like the Tappan Zee Bridge, New York City Schools, roads and bridges cost more in New York due to the absolute liability standard, severely limiting our ability to keep infrastructure safe and rebuild more efficiently after weather related events like Superstorm Sandy.

New York remains the only state in the nation with such an absolute liability standard.  A comparative market analysis demonstrates that insurance costs on public and privately financed construction projects would be significantly lower with scaffold law reform.  New York’s Scaffold Law predates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Workers’ Compensation Law, state regulations, local laws, and construction industry best practices that provide rigorous safety protections to workers.

New York’s general liability insurance market is in crisis mode.  The absolute liability standard and threat of large cash awards to plaintiffs has limited the number of insurance companies willing to provide general liability and reinsurance policies in New York. The insurance marketplace is under duress, with carriers passing along increases ranging from 20% to 400%.  Such increases are then passed on to the consumer and drive up the cost on every construction project, be it a house, a bridge, a school, a barn or a high-rise building.  In many cases, the only insurance market open to contractors and subcontractors is the non-admitted lines, where exclusions for scaffold law related claims are not uncommon.

The Scaffold Law also has a destructive impact on minority and women owned (M/WBE) contractors.  Governor Cuomo has recently increased the state’s target for M/WBE involvement in state projects, but advocates argue that the scaffold law disproportionately affects M/WBEs who are generally smaller and cannot afford the insurance costs, or could be quickly bankrupted by a large settlement.  Scaffold law reform would accelerate more business opportunities for M/WBE firms.


Business Council Testimony on Executive Budget and Business Taxes

ken4The Business Council of New York State, Inc. presented testimony today outlining how the adoption of the Executive Budget’s business tax reform provisions will lower business tax burdens and produce significant job, income and economic benefits for the state.

“The strong economic impact of this tax reform package is due to tax reductions being targeted in industries with high economic multipliers, such as manufacturing, information, real estate and financial services, “said Kenneth Pokalsky, The Business Council’s vice president of government affairs.  “Our analysis shows that restructuring the tax code and lowering the basic tax rate would produce more than 14,000 new jobs by 2019, and almost 18,000 new jobs by 2024.”

The Business Council supports key tax reform measures including modernizing and restructuring the corporate franchise tax, reducing the corporate franchise tax rate to 6.5 percent, the adoption of a 20 percent real property tax credit for manufacturers statewide. These measures are projected to provide approximately $560 million in directly employer tax relief when fully implemented.

The Business Council also supports the enhanced phase-out of the 18-A, a utility surcharge tax that can costs a small manufacturer several thousand per month and cost a large, energy intensive manufacturer $10,000 per month or more.

“Business tax reductions in these industries have strong spillover effects that increase employment and economic activity throughout the state’s economy,” continued Pokalsky.

The Business Council encouraged the legislature to support the Governor’s business tax reform package.

Read The Business Council of New York State testimony online.

Scaffold Law limits opportunities for M/WBEs

In an Op-Ed in the New York Post, the Rev. Jacques DeGraff, Co-Chairman of the Alliance for Minority and Women Construction Businesses and Senior Vice President of 100 Black Men discusses how New York’s antiquated Scaffold Law limits business opportunities for construction-related M/WBEs by driving up the overall cost of projects.

“In the case of large public projects, the added insurance and settlement costs can run hundreds of millions of dollars. This means that hundreds of projects don’t get built each year, costing the state tens of thousands of solid middle-class construction jobs with good benefits, and our taxes continue to rise.

“The Scaffold Law also stands in the way of the mayor’s and governor’s plans to to make pre-K available to every student. There simply aren’t enough seats to accommodate the tens of thousands of kids who’d be eligible under these proposals.

“Already, thanks to the unfair Scaffold Law, the New York City School Construction Authority is paying $150 million more this year for insurance and settlement costs than it did last year — a 140 percent jump — and will pay $1 billion more over the next five years. If the law were changed, the authority could build more than 8,000 pre-K seats over the next five years, without needing any additional public funds.

“What’s worse is that the School Construction Authority has the most successful mentor and Minority and Women Business Enterprise program in the nation — awarding over $1.7 billion in construction contracts to more than 800 M/WBE companies over the last decade. If we don’t reform the Scaffold Law now, this program and the thousands of M/WBE firms and jobs it creates are at risk.”

To read the entire Op-Ed please click here.

Tax policy experts propose ideal upstate business tax climate

Tax policy experts from the Center for Governmental Research (CGR), Ernst & Young, the Tax Foundation, the Empire Center for Public Policy, Inc., and The Business Council of New York State, outlined steps to create the ideal tax climate for business in upstate New York, during a panel discussion hosted by The Public Policy Institute (PPI).

The panelists were, Robert Cline, national director, State & Local Tax Policy Economics, Ernst & Young; Joseph Henchman, vice president of Legal & State Projects, Tax Foundation; and Edmund J. McMahon, president, Empire Center for Public Policy, Inc. Kent Gardner, chief economist and chief research officer at CGR, opened the forum with an overview of the upstate economy. The panel was moderated by Ken Pokalsky, vice president of government affairs, for The Business Council.

Pokalsky challenged the panel to recommend the ideal business tax climate for upstate and it was clear from their presentations that the current tax climate is far the ideal.

Gardner opened the discussion with a profile of the upstate economy. He said that since the state has begun to recover from the 2008 recession, the majority of economic growth has been downstate, and the upstate economy continues to sputter. This is especially true in manufacturing jobs which have been flat since 2012.

The largest employers upstate are colleges and universities, and hospital health care systems. According to Gardner, the largest employers in Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester and Binghamton all fall into those “eds and meds” categories. To view Gardner’s presentation, please click  here.

Cline is the author of a study on the business tax reductions included in the Governor’s Executive Budget that found restructuring the tax code and lowering the basic tax rate would produce more than 14,000 new jobs by 2019, and almost 18,000 new jobs by 2024.

It also shows in-state personal income will increase by $1.3 billion by 2019, and $2.1 billion by 2024.

Cline said that economic models show as much as 70 percent of the tax savings that businesses get would return to households in the form employment opportunities and less costly goods and services.

McMahon, compared the tax climate of the states he described as most similar to upstate New York, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
“Compared to the peer states highlighted above—focusing mainly on headline rates—upstate New York is furthest out of line in average taxation of high incomes and accumulated wealth, sales, and property of all kinds, in that order,” he said. To view McMahon’s presentation, please click here.

The Tax Foundation’s Henchman citied the widely reported Business Tax Climate index which places New York 50th overall among the states. His prescription for improving the state’s tax climate includes phasing out the top income tax rate, indexing income tax brackets for inflation, reducing the current four methods of calculating the corporate tax down to one and broadening the items included in the sales tax, and reducing the rate. He also supports the elimination of the state’s inheritance tax and favors making permanent the current temporary 2-percent cap on property taxes. To view The Tax Foundation presentation, please click To view The Tax Foundation presentation, please click here. 

The panel discussion, held in Albany, was the first in a series of events convened by The Public Policy Institute as part of its year-long Opportunity Upstate project. Other topics for discussions in other parts of the state include education and workforce development, international trade, manufacturing and innovation. The project will conclude with a roadmap and a vision for a re-energized upstate economy to be presented at The Annual Meeting of the Business Council in September.

Scaffold Law Reform in Albany

On Tuesday, February 11, 2014, Scaffold Law Reform will take center stage in Albany as hundreds of advocates representing various professions, and the diverse geography of the state, converge on The Capitol. The group, which includes members of The Business Council, Associated General Contractors and the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York will urge Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to reform New York’s Scaffold Law, this session.

To join us in Albany for this exciting day of action, register here.

Insurance costs associated with New York’s Scaffold law are creating a burden for businesses, the state, municipalities and taxpayers. The Business Council supports reforming this antiquated law that raises insurance costs, negatively impacts development and job growth.

The Scaffold Law, which dates back to 1885, imposes absolute liability for any elevation-related injuries on contractors involved in construction or repair work. This means the contractor assumes 100 percent of the liability regardless of the cause of the accident. Every other personal injury action in New York State utilizes comparative negligence, which requires an assessment of the degree of causation based on all the facts in a fair and proportional way.  In addition, the other 49 states have amended their scaffold laws to incorporate a comparative negligence standard.

The Business Council endorses passage of S.111 (Gallivan)/A.3104 (Morelle), which adopts a contributory negligence standard, making liability proportional to fault, but only in situations where an employee’s injury is found to have been caused by that employee’s failure to follow safety training or use available safety devices, was intoxication or was engaged in the commission of a crime. This reform legislation neither limits an injured workers’ right to sue nor the amount that can be awarded and does not impact any workers’ compensation claim raised by an injured worker.