May 15, 2011
By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union
Getting a well-paying job in this tough economy wasn't all that hard this spring for a group of graduates from the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
Just ask Ben Backes, who graduated this weekend with a master's degree in nanoscale engineering. Backes will start next week as a characterization engineer at IBM's computer chip factory in East Fishkill.
"I sent out two resumes and I got two phone calls back. I felt like a pretty attractive candidate," the Chicago native said.
Backes is one of several master's and doctoral students in the NanoCollege's graduating class of 16 this spring who have landed jobs in the semiconductor industry. And many of the positions are located right here in the Hudson Valley, including at the new GlobalFoundries computer chip factory, known as Fab 8, that is being built in Malta.
Location is important to Nicholas Connelly, a Niskayuna native who attended Siena College as a physics major before getting his master's in nanoscale engineering from the NanoCollege.
Connelly will miss the UAlbany graduation ceremonies because he is in Dresden, Germany, for two months of training at GlobalFoundries' computer chip factories there. When he gets back home, he will start his job as a factory systems coordinator at Fab 8 in the photolithography group.
Connelly recived an offer to work in California, but he said he wanted to stay in the area.
"I'm really a family-oriented guy, so I couldn't have wished for anything more," said Connelly, who plans to be married this fall. "This is really working out perfectly."
Five years ago, before the $4.6 billion GlobalFoundries project was announced, Connelly would probably have had to leave the area -- and the state -- to find work in the semiconductor industry.
But that was before folks in Saratoga County came up with the idea of turning a piece of logging land into what became Luther Forest Technology Campus, where Fab 8 is being built. Creating local jobs and opportunities in a growing sector is a big part of the reason the state Legislature and Gov. George Pataki approved a $1.4 billion incentive package to lure GlobalFoundries here.
That is just one part of the story that has turned the Hudson Valley into Tech Valley, which today rivals tech centers such as Silicon Valley in California and Austin, Texas.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy over the years has produced engineers for the global semiconductor industry, with many finding high-profile jobs at computer chip companies like IBM, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.
But the creation of the NanoCollege in 2004 and the billions of dollars of investments made by the state and IBM at the $7 billion Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road also played a critical role in training qualified workers. Not only do students there work side-by-side with IBM researchers, but GlobalFoundries also has scientists there, as do most of the top manufacturing tool suppliers like Tokyo Electron. Sematech, the global semiconductor consortium, is now also based at Albany NanoTech after moving from Austin, Texas, this year.
NanoCollege CEO Alain Kaloyeros says that makes the school a perfect training ground for future employees of those companies.
"They know they've been trained just like them," Kaloyeros said of companies that fund research projects for grad students. "Honestly, the job is usually theirs to lose."
Graduate students who go on to work for the semiconductor industry can expect starting salaries between $85,000 and $97,000, Kaloyeros says.
RPI and Union College grads have also gone to work for IBM. John Kelly III, director of IBM Research, is a graduate of both schools.
Having those schools nearby is an advantage for IBM because of the competition to recruit the best technical minds, says Bernie Meyerson, vice president of Innovation and University Programs at IBM.
"It's of enormous import," Meyerson said. "There's tremendous competition for talent."
Of course, the GlobalFoundries project -- arguably the single largest industrial investment made in New York's history -- is having an economic impact across all of upstate New York as unemployment remains high, an effect of the financial meltdown that started in 2008.
GlobalFoundries, which is planning a work force of more than 2,000 in Malta and has room for two more fabs, says that it has already hired 78 recent college grads. And a little more than half were educated in New York. The top feeder school has been RPI, 16 of whose recent graduates have been hired. Rochester Institute of Technology ranks second with seven going to work for GlobalFoundries.
Michael Jackson, an associate professor and director of outreach for microelectronics engineering at RIT, says the undergraduate program was started 30 years ago and has more than 1,000 alums, many working in the computer chip industry.
One of the RIT students going to work at Fab 8 in Malta is Sakhawat Hossain, a Brooklyn native who studied manufacturing engineering and economics at RIT.
He didn't know much about the GlobalFoundries project before he started the interview process. But once he learned what was going on in Malta -- only a few hours from home -- he was hooked.
"The semiconductor industry is growing at a very fast pace and this new plant is going to be a part of it," Hossain said. "As I learned more about the company, I wanted to be a part of it even more."
Union College, in Schenectady, has a handful of engineering graduates who are trying to land jobs at GlobalFoundries. Bob Soules, director of Union's Becker Career Center, says the school already has a good relationship with GlobalFoundries.
"We want to try to do more with GlobalFoundries," Soules said. "We hope to build them a nice pipeline."
Stories such as these are music to the ears of F. Michael Tucker, president of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany. Even before GlobalFoundries broke ground in Malta in July 2009, Tucker and other economic development officials were focusing many of their efforts on work force development so that GlobalFoundries and its dozens of suppliers would have enough qualified workers.
He says it's good news that GlobalFoundries has been able to find graduates in its own backyard. About 375 people now work in Malta, with a total of 900 expected by the beginning of next year when the company will start ramping up production. Tucker says the dual approach of attracting manufacturing while building the educational system has paid off.
"The proof is in the pudding that the jobs are here, but also that the people to fill them are here," Tucker said.