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Howard Zemsky heading back to the private sector

Matt Ryan
New York Now
Howard Zemsky in a recent interview with WBFO Albany Correspondent Karen Dewitt.

Howard Zemsky is heading back to the private sector after four years running New York's Empire State Development Corporation.

"Then, you'll hear from Mr. Howard Zemsky, Mr. Western New York himself. Let's give him a round of applause (applause)."

That was Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking last month at Buffalo State College. Zemsky and the governor helped New York develop something it had not had before: an economic development plan for the region.

Zemsky was a business man who spent 38 years living here and running family businesses. He was best known as one of the three partners who saw opportunities in the vast empty buildings in what is now called Larkinville, a growing assemblage of office space, residential space, party space and parking for food trucks.

Once Larkin Development Group showed the promise of the neighborhood and its businesses, other developers moved in. They took advantage of the city's stock of old buildings.

With that background, Zemsky was recruited as a co-chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and then into the upper echelons of state government as ESDC chairman in 2015, with the backing of Cuomo.

He headed a system with each region developing its own plans and priorities, then pitching ESDC to send some cash to elements of those priorities. The entire effort was different from so much New York had done, with the state throwing in billions.

Speaking at Buffalo State, Zemsky praised Cuomo's efforts and dollars to turn this region around.

"The opportunity to reclaim your future, because all of us know in our heart of hearts, 10 years ago, we weren't even sure we had any future here at all," Zemsky said. "Think about how different it is today. So with that, do me a favor and recognize this governor of the State of New York (applause)."

Now, Zemsky will remain board chairman of ESDC, but is likely to be much more visible in his business role as the force behind creation of Larkinville.

Still, for Zemsky the biggest bet remains waiting: the $750 million put into the Tesla solar panel plant in South Buffalo. The horse race on that bet is still at the far turn.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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