May 15, 2012

Presidential visit puts focus on upstate's high-tech growth

By: Jon Campbell

Source: Gannett

ALBANY — During a visit to the Capital Region, President Barack Obama said he wanted “what’s happening in Albany to happen all across the country.”

The comment, on its surface, turned a few heads. In a city known foremost for its political battles, Obama touted it as a model for a nation still recovering from a recession.

He made his comments after taking a tour of the Albany NanoTech Complex at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, a state-owned facility that has fostered lucrative partnerships that have injected billions of private investment in the state, including a manufacturing plant in Canandaigua.

“Right now, some of the most advanced manufacturing work in America is being done right here in upstate New York,” Obama said. “Cutting-edge businesses from all over the world are deciding to build here and hire here. And you’ve got schools like this one that are training workers with the exact skills that those businesses are looking for.”

It’s a model that’s been 18 years in the making; one that officials are hoping can be replicated across upstate and beyond.In introducing the president on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo compared the work being done in Albany to that of the Erie Canal, which transformed the state’s economy when it opened in the early 1800s.

“With this new publicly managed and driven economic model, the governor is kind of repeating history,” said Alain Kaloyeros, senior vice president and chief executive officer of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

“But as opposed to using the Erie Canal as the physical, we’re using now the innovation — nanotechnology — as a new Erie Canal to drive economic development.”

The seeds for replicating the Albany center’s approach were planted in a megadeal announced last September between the state and a consortium of five computing giants including IBM, Intel and Samsung.

In exchange for a $400 million expansion of the Albany complex, the companies agreed to invest $4.4 billion inside the state on computer chip manufacturing and research, working out of facilities in Canandaigua, Westchester County and Utica.

Now, Kaloyeros said the plan is to have those research facilities become “anchors” for the companies, where they will expand their operations and create jobs.

“It’s to establish those facilities and anchor them to the magnitude that is being done in Albany, and have the research that’s being done in Albany — the innovation — drive the company location and the manufacturing piece in all of those locations,” he said. “Obviously, part of the governor’s vision is to expand that model to other locations in different parts of the state.”

Sandra Parker, president of the Rochester Business Alliance, said the September deal involving the Smart System Technology and Commercialization Center in Canandaigua has piqued interest in the nanotechnology industry in the western part of the state.

“The overflow and the energy and excitement from the Albany area is bound to affect the Canandaigua center, so I think there’s a lot of excitement about the potential there,” Parker said.

The Cornell University NanoScale Science & Technology Facility in Ithaca traces its roots back more than 30 years, when it then began researching “submicron” technology, according to Robert Buhrman, senior vice provost for research.

Now, the Cornell center focuses on partnering with startup companies with nanotech research and development, and pulls in about $20 million each year in federal funding. It partners with well-known companies as well, including Eastman Kodak and Xerox, according to Cornell.

“Our main attraction is for small companies which we hope to grow and be big, and academic researchers,” Buhrman said. “That’s why the federal government pays us to provide this capability.”

Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York system, said the Albany nanotech model is based on three basic principles: business discovery, university discovery and the development of students to fill the jobs created.

That model, she said, translates to any industry, not just nanoscience.

“The model is already on the road in New York,” Zimpher said. “I think that’s the model that the president wants to replicate across the country.”