Encouragement of small business and agriculture are among the keys to restoring economic growth in upstate New York, U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy said Monday.
Development of domestic energy sources, investment in infrastructure and focusing education on math and science were other parts of a Blueprint for Economic Growth that Murphy released at an Economic Action Summit his staff organized.
“I feel government can be part of the solution, sometimes, and sometimes government needs to get out of the way of small business,” Murphy told the audience.
The summit held at the Saratoga Hilton drew about 300 participants, ranging from local elected officials and school superintendents to the volunteer firefighters who will face new demands as the economy grows.
Murphy, D-Glens Falls, laid out some of his own ideas — like universal broadband Internet access — and then a variety of experts in fields ranging from alternative energy technology to transportation infrastructure planning spoke at smaller workshops.
Murphy, who was a venture capitalist and small businessman before winning a special election for the 20th Congressional District seat almost a year ago, said finding ways of encouraging private business investment is crucial to the future — and his interest in economic development is what got him into government.
“Where we always see job growth is from innovation. It’s private businesses that create growth for the long run,” the congressman said.
The 20th Congressional District is a mostly rural district that stretches from Lake Placid to Dutchess County, including most of Saratoga County, where one of the world’s biggest new investments — the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant — is being built.
Landing that $4.2 billion chip facility required years of planning and preparation, including actual construction of infrastructure like new water and sewer lines, said Dennis Brobston, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp.
“When we talk about being prepared, it’s going all the way, not just talking about it,” Brobston said.
Michael Russo, director of government relations for GlobalFoundries, said the semiconductor industry should have a major impact on the Capital Region, but he cautioned against expecting GlobalFoundries alone to be transforming.
“When you set regional expectations on just one business, that’s not a good thing,” Russo said.
The GlobalFoundries plant is now under construction in Malta, expected to employ 1,400 people permanently when it opens in 2012, and to create as many as 5,000 jobs in support industries.
Those other industries will have a major impact, he said.
“As the clustering effect takes hold, there will be a lot of other businesses locating to this area, or if they’re already here, they will boom,” Russo said.
Robert Hansen, acting regional planning and program manager for the state Department of Transportation, spoke on unmet highway infrastructure needs.
He said the federal government isn’t yet facing up to the cost of replacing aging transportation infrastructure, including the 50-year-old interstate highway system.
“The bump [in transportation investment] we had in the 1960s is now waiting to be replaced,” Hansen said. “Many rural areas will never see a replacement highway, at least unless a lot more money comes in.”
There is currently no long-term federal transportation funding bill, he noted. The previous funding bill expired last fall, and Congress has yet to enact a new bill, though it has passed short-term extensions.
Murphy referenced making repairs to roads and bridges in his infrastructure position paper, but he spoke enthusiastically for expanding rural broadband computer network access. He and U.S. Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have proposed a federal Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives, to get high-speed data access into even the most rural communities.
Murphy cited the case of a Washington County goat dairy that had to drop out of a national food product catalog because it couldn’t process the number of Internet orders it was receiving, because it lacked broadband.
“I see these problems every day in talking to businesses and people in the district,” Murphy said.
The congressman also said that decreasing the reliance on imported oil has to be a national priority. In addition to using more alternative energy technologies, he said the solutions have to include natural gas drawn from the Marcellus shale, and nuclear power.
“Both are technologies we have to be careful to use safely,” Murphy said. “Energy independence is a critical issue for us in the future.”
The Marcellus shale formation, which extends under the Appalachian Mountains, including large parts of New York, contains large volumes of natural gas deep underground.
Energy companies say it can be extracted safely, but critics fear it cannot be pumped out without causing groundwater contamination and other environmental problems.
As the summit wound down, Murphy said he hopes some of its value comes from people meeting and talking with each other.
“I’m hoping people are networking and getting good ideas from other people,” he said.