September 09, 2010
By: by Rick Moriarty, The Post-Standard
Salina, NY -- The state will invest $28 million to turn a former General Electric Co. laboratory in Salina into a nanotechnology research and development facility projected to employ up to 250 people.
The center will allow local companies including Lockheed Martin Corp. to exploit technologies developed at the state's $6 billion NanoTech complex in Albany by turning them into products for the commercial and military marketplaces.
It also will give new life to a laboratory, closed for 14 years, that once produced breakthroughs in television tubes, pacemakers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Work on the 100,000-square-foot building, located on the former GE campus now known as the Electronics Park office and industrial center, could start by the end of the year. It will take about a year and a half to complete, said Robert Simpson, president and CEO of CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity, the nonprofit development organization that will oversee the renovation and manage the center for the state.
The grant will renovate half of the building, with the other half left for future expansions of the research center, Simpson said.
Assemblyman Al Stirpe, D-North Syracuse, who helped to secure the grant, said $16 million will be spent renovating the building, known for 52 years as Electronics Laboratory, or "E-Lab." The rest, $12 million, will pay for specialized equipment, he said.
Stirpe, who is running for re-election, said the lab will focus on commercializing technologies developed with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering of the University at Albany.
Lockheed Martin will be the center's anchor tenant, but the state also expects the center to attract many smaller technology companies, particularly those interested in working with Lockheed Martin, one of the nation's biggest defense contractors, he said. More details are expected to be announced at a news conference at the building this morning.
Built by GE in 1944 and expanded in 1952, the two-story building has a lot of history. More than 2,000 GE employees worked in it over the years and contributed to about 600 patents.
The technologies that came out of the lab went into products that included military systems such as radars and the telemetry and guidance systems of the Atlas ICBM; commercial systems such as high-power video projection systems of the 1960s, simulators for the Apollo space program and early light emitting diodes (LEDs); medical devices such as CAT scans and the first implantable pacemaker; and consumer products such as the first transistor radio in 1953 and the solid state technology used in televisions and radio receivers.
The building has been closed since 1996, a year after Martin Marietta Corp. bought GE's aerospace business.
But for the past two years, Lockheed Martin, Martin Marietta's successor company, has been talking to the state about resurrecting the lab because it sees nanotechnology as a key part of its future radar, sonar and other products developed in Salina and at other Lockheed facilities, said Troy Scully, senior manager of communications and public affairs for the company.
Lockheed will assign 15 to 20 workers to the center and already is talking to suppliers about becoming part of it, he said. "This is a way to encourage others to grow alongside us," he said.
Simpson said the center will help solidify Lockheed Martin's presence in Salina. The company employs 2,400 of the 3,000 people who work at Electronics Park.
Nanotechnology is the science of managing and manipulating matter at the atomic level to create materials that are stronger, lighter and more easily recyclable. ("Nano" refers to a nanometer, or one-billionth of a meter.) It already is being used in such things as semiconductors, scratch-free paint, wrinkle and stain-resistant fabrics, sunscreen lotions, skis and photographic paper, according to the College of Nanoscale Science.
Doug Reep, director of advanced programs at Lockheed Martin, said the defense contractor is particularly interested in packing more computing power into its radar systems so that they can detect targets at longer ranges.
GE's old Electronics Laboratory sign is likely to remain on the building for historical purposes, but the state plans to call the new research center the Nanotechnology Innovation and Commercialization Excellerator at Electronics Park - NICE for short.
The project is part of an effort by the state to extend the benefits of the NanoTech complex from Albany west to communities along the Thruway. The state has pumped $800 million into the NanoTech complex, which has in turn attracted $5 billion in private investment from companies participating in the research there.
The center's success has generated envy among economic development officials in other regions of the state, including Central New York, which sees emerging technology companies as a way to shore up its shrinking manufacturing base.
Last year, the state announced plans to create a business incubator and technology accelerator at State University Institute of Technology in Utica in partnership with Albany's NanoTech center. State officials said the Utica center will create 475 supplier and contractor jobs.
The state has owned the former GE campus in Salina since Martin Marietta bought the company's aerospace business in 1995.
At the time, Martin Marietta said it did not need all of the 11 buildings on the 181-acre campus, which was built by GE as a post-war radio and television design and production center. State officials were worried the company might pull out of Salina, so the state offered to take over ownership of the buildings and lease back six of them to Martin Marietta and later Lockheed Martin.
Electronics Park LLC, an offshoot of CenterState CEO, manages the campus as a business park for the state. The park, located just north of the Thruway seven miles northwest of Syracuse, has six business tenants, including Lockheed.
Stirpe said the state Assembly is providing the grant, which will be financed through bonds issued by the state Dormitory Authority and paid off with future income taxes.
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