After the announcement earlier this month of the creation of the $1.5 billion ‘Nano Utica’ at the SUNYIT campus in Marcy, Fulton and Montgomery counties are now positioned between three giant nanotechnology centers, the others being UAlbany’s nanocollege and Global Foundries in Malta.
Nanotechnology is the science of the very small, for perspective one human hair is about 10,000 nanometers thick. Nanoscience is the driving force behind the advancement of computer chip technology, a huge wealth creating industry. The Nano Utica project is expected to create more than a 1,000 high-paying high-tech jobs.
Fulton Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger said the local region is prepared to train a nanotechnology workforce.
“We put a clean room in a few years ago, for exactly this reason, because people need to know what it’s like to work in a nano-environment. We altered curriculum to incorporate nanotechnology and we built an advanced manufacturing lab as well. We have a strong relationship with Albany’s [nanotechnology center] as well as SUNYIT and I anticipate that we will strengthen those ties. Students now have opportunities both east and west of us,”?he said.
Swanger said there are about 90 to 100 students in the nanotechnology program and the program graduated about 25 students last year. He said the focus of the program is job preparation but some students transfer to the nanotechnology programs at UAlbany or SUNYIT.
“Wherever you see a microchip fabrication plant locate, you see development within a 60 mile radius. Now we’ve got two, one on each side of us, and we’re well within that 60 mile radius,” Swanger said. “There’s no reason we can’t take advantage of that, as long as we don’t let politics get in the way of taking advantage of that. I think we have the resources, the community and the opportunity, however, to really maximize our ability to take advantage of this opportunity we have to think regionally. We have to think collaboratively. We have to take down any arbitrary barriers that we put up against coming into our area.”
Economic development officials in both counties said one area where politics could stall growth is in finding ways to match available land for development with the water and sewer services needed to make the land “shovel ready” for high-tech economic development. A proposed plan to create a regional business park, with land annexed from the town of Mohawk and water and sewer from the city of Johnstown, fell through several years ago when officials in the two municipalities failed to complete a tax revenue sharing deal.
Ken Rose, Montgomery County’s economic developer, said there are about 70 high quality buildings available for development within 15 minutes of the Global Foundries location in Malta, which makes it difficult for his county to lure companies that might support the microchip fabrication plant. He said Montgomery County’s town of Florida Business Park, which is split by Route 5S, has about 100 acres of free space on one side of the highway and about 60 acres on the other side.
“That’s why we want to refocus on this Regional Business?Park between Fulton and Montgomery counties,”?Rose said.
Rose said the upcoming elections for mayor in the city of Johnstown and supervisor for the town of Mohawk will be critical toward whether the business park is ever built.
Fulton County Planning Director James Mraz said when International site selector Michael Mullis reviewed the proposal for the regional business park concept he told officials in the two counties that the park could be one of the most attractive sites in the Northeastern United States. Last week Mraz recommended the Fulton County Board of Supervisors Capital Projects Committee approve a $150,000 project to re-start the regional business park plan. Part of the money would be used for a design plan for the park and another part would be used to study the possibility of restarting rail service on a stretch of the abandoned FJ&G Railroad bed between Fonda and Johnstown. Mraz said Mullis told officials 72 percent of companies want rail service available where they chose to locate their facilities. The so-called “rail spur” into the regional business park could help attract what Mraz called “a game-changing” company to the area.
Mraz said Johnstown only has two lots left , about 25 acres in size, available for development in the Johnstown Industrial Park with two lots left in the Crossroads Industrial?Park totaling about 7 acres in size.
“There isn’t much land left, the good news being we’ve brought a lot of businesses in, but the downside being there just isn’t much vacant land left,”?he said.
Fulton County is also focusing on the development of the Tryon Technology Park. The former juvenile prison campus is in the final stages of having its title transferred from the state of New York to the Fulton County Industrial Development agency. Mraz said the size of property is about 515 acres, of which IDA is looking to convert 300 acres into about 9 to 10 lots ranging in size from 15 to 50 acres. The project is costing $2 million, which was awarded to the county in a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation.
“This is gong to increase the inventory of shovel ready sites that we have in this county, which, over the years, that large inventory has really be the centerpiece of how we’ve attracted companies,” Mraz said. “We are certainly geographically well-positioned within these two high-tech centers and hopefully that location will create opportunities for companies that are either directly working with these nano-center locations or spin-off businesses. These two places are going to making computer chips, eventually the hope is the manufacture of these chips could happen somewhere here in the U.S. We’re very excited about the opportunity that could present itself here.”?