Preparing for Growth

Four years ago, in the summer of 2010, local economic development officials were optimistic about the potential economic benefits to the local region of the GlobalFoundaries microchip fabrication project at the Luthor Forest Tech Campus in Malta.

Since then, the multibillion-dollar GlobalFoundaries project has created more jobs than originally predicted, but so far no other major high-tech companies have moved into the local region to supply the chip fab plant, or to benefit from the nexus of nanotechnology research being done at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany and at the $1.5 billion Nano Utica project at SUNYIT in Utica.

No ‘close calls’

Ken Rose, director of the Montgomery County Business Development Center, said he’s not aware of any high-tech firms that have considered locating locally.

“I think if you look at the Luthor Forest Technology Campus itself, and given that GlobalFoundaries is the only tenant in there, I think that explains a lot. I think it’s taken longer [to attract other technology companies] than what most of the experts in that area felt it would take,” he said. “I know we have worked with a couple of existing companies in terms of potentially getting some contracts and affiliations with GlobalFoundaries, and there have been meetings set up and a couple of them are still ongoing, but right now agreements have not been reached.”

Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz said he’s unaware of any “close calls” of technology companies considering setting up shop here.

“I don’t think much has happened to date and part of that is our not having the sites ready, but I think the ‘spin offs’ that were anticipated have either not …. occurred to the extent that they were talking [about] or concentrated in a tighter zone around GlobalFoundaries,” Mraz said.

FMCC job training

One thing locally that clearly has seen impact from the GlobalFoundaries project has been the Electrical Technology program at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. In direct response to the GlobalFoundaries project. FMCC, using government, grants, invested more than $1 million to create a nanotechnology clean room on campus. The clean room has enabled the school to give students the training necessary to work in the nanotechnology industry.

“Prior to GlobalFoundaries we probably serviced 15 to 20 students [in that program], last year, I think we had about 80 in the program,” FMCC President Dustin Swanger said. “And, more importantly, those students are leaving and getting jobs at GlobalFoundaries and suppliers of GlobalFoundaries. Last year I think eight transferred to SUNYIT to continue their studies in nanotechnology. The impact there is people are working.”

Since 2010, FMCC’s Electrical Technology program has graduated about 55 students, Swanger said. Swanger said the college’s program is making it possible for local people to receive the training they need to compete for jobs at high-tech companies like GlobalFoundaries.

“Have all of the companies moved into the area that we kept talking about? The answer’s no, but if you look at other places where chip fabrication plants located, like Austin, Texas, like Portland, Oregon, that stuff developed over 20 years, it wasn’t a three year boon,” said Swanger, who’s also the chairman of the Center for Regional Growth. “Just the workforce demands at Global Foundaries, FMCC could not meet alone. Just the jobs they have today. You’ve got UAlbany, Hudson Valley Community College, Schenectady County Community College, working on producing as many graduates as you can for that kind of program, and when you add the supplier companies it could continue to grow in the need for employees.”

Tale of two

business parks

Mraz said part of the push Fulton County has been making to develop the Tryon Technology Park, out of the former juvenile prison campus, is to reestablish an inventory of “shovel-ready” sites for companies that might want to move into the area.

“Our belief is that if another GlobalFoundaries goes over to Utica, I think that we’ll certainly be better positioned to get some type of benefits because we’re kind of right in the middle of those two,” he said.

Mraz said Jablonski Excavating of St. Johnsville is currently working on the installation of new water and sewer lines in the park as well reconfiguring the internal road network. When completed, the Tryon Technology Park will be approximately 300 acres in size containing about nine to 10 lots of different acreage.

“By the end of this year or early next year, we’ll be in position to start marketing those sites to new businesses,” Mraz said. “We want to position ourselves and have ourselves available in the event that something spins off from one of those two developments, but at the same time we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket either. We recognize that there are many opportunities available to us in terms of the types of businesses that we’d like to attract here. If it’s not spin off from GlobalFoundaries, maybe it’s a professional office building, maybe it’s a corporate headquarters, maybe it’s photovoltaic industry. We want to be able to attract a broad spectrum of businesses, not just those that are tied to Global Foundaries.”

The second major economic development project in the region is the proposed Regional Business Park, which would require land to be annexed from the town of Mohawk into the city of Johnstown.

Mraz said the plan behind the Regional Business Park proposal is very different from the Tryon Technology Park in that the two counties plan to market the land as a single 280 acre site available for large scale projects. Mraz said when international site selector Mike Mullis visited the region in September, he told officials there is a “pent-up demand” for large development sites in the United States.

“People say ‘Why are you building another park?’, well we’re not building another park,” Mraz said. “The Johnstown Industrial Park is about 330 acres in total and it’s broken into about 15 to 18 lots, and that’s what people think of when they think of a business park. We’re marking one 280 acre site that would be the only site of this size that we would be able to offer to prospective companies. This would give us the ability to go after very large projects, ones that I’ve called ‘game-changers’ for this community in terms of the size and magnitude and the employment and the tax generation that could come from this.”

Mraz said another advantage of building a single-site business park is that water and sewer lines could easily be extended from the Johnstown Industrial Park, while a multi-lot park would require more infrastructure.

Both Mraz and Rose agreed that the stumbling block so far for creation of the Regional Business Park has been negotiation of a tax sharing revenue agreement between the town of Mohawk and the city of Johnstown. Mohawk has wanted a permanent tax sharing agreement, while officials in Johnstown have been hesitant to agree with one.

Rose said talks between the two municipalities occurred last week. He said one issue that had been raised was whether it was legal for a municipality to enter into an agreement longer than 40 years in length.

“We’ve gotten over that hurdle with regards to legal opinions that we’ve received from hiring counsel for that specific purpose alone. There is an agreement that can be put in place that goes past 40 years, but whether it’s permanent or not, that’s a discussion that the town and the city have to have,” Rose said.

Swanger said he believes that cooperation between elected leaders is imperative for regional economic growth.

“Despite what you see in the media about politicians battling it out in Gloversville and Amsterdam and all of the nonsense that’s taking place, you see a lot of people working together to move this region forward,” he said.

Swanger said he plans to present a “report card” on Sept. 3 for how the area has been progressing toward the Regional Business Plan for Fulton and Montgomery Counties laid out by the Center for Regional Growth in 2011.

“There were six overall goals and we’ve made progress in almost all of those areas,” he said.