Experts: Education a key to high-tech success

A well-educated workforce will be key to reaping the benefits of GlobalFoundries, General Electric a

A well-educated workforce will be key to reaping the benefits of GlobalFoundries, General Electric and other technology companies in the Capital Region.

To do that, local leaders and economic planners stressed, a high school diploma is no longer enough.

“Everybody has got to get that two-year degree,” Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority, said at a forum called “Opportunity Knocks” held Tuesday to discuss the effect that GlobalFoundries will have on the area job market, businesses and economy. About 50 people attended the event at Scotia-Glenville High School.

Gillen, who also serves on the Board of Trustees for Schenectady County Community College, said it is crucial to shore up the “education pipeline” to make sure everyone has the necessary skills. Even some graduates of more-affluent suburban schools are dropping out of college, he noted.

“There are people saying if you don’t have a master’s degree you’re going to be in trouble in this new economy.”

The GlobalFoundries plant under construction in Malta currently employes nearly 1,000 people and will have close to 1,600 when commercial computer chip production starts late next year. Economic development officials are excited about the effect on the region. There could be anywhere from four to eight additional spinoff jobs created for every job at GlobalFoundries, according to Jeff Lawrence, executive vice president for the Center for Economic Growth.

“Retail will expand. Restaurants will expand. Cleaning companies will expand,” he said. “Everything it takes to support these industries will get bigger.”

Schools and colleges are looking to adapt their programs for these new jobs. SCCC President Quintin Bullock said the college has been revising its curriculum to focus on workforce development.

“When we have partners like GE and GlobalFoudries in our back door, it is important that we align our programs to specific jobs available. Our goal is to train them and keep them in the area,” he said.

The college has programs in nanoscale materials, alternative energy and computer network security. It also has a strong culinary arts program.

Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz said the job of the school is to prepare students with the 21st century skills of critical thinking, problem-solving and communication. “This isn’t about being able to name the capitals of states. This isn’t about being able to name the parts of the flower,” she said.

As for other economic development, Mike Russo, government affairs director for GlobalFoundries, said the region has to have a consistent vision, know its strengths and play to those.

“Too many times, you find that municipalities and people in a region — depending on who’s in office and from term to term — visions change,” Russo observed.

Gillen also said the Capital Region has to do a better job of promoting itself and the economic development occurring at GlobalFoundries and the forthcoming GE battery plant.

There are exciting things happening, Gillen said, most recently the announcement of five leading high-tech companies investing $4.4 billion in the state’s computer chip industry. The area has relatively low unemployment compared with some parts of the country.

“We’re really the envy of many of the regions in the country, but we don’t talk it up,” he said.

David Rooney, senior vice president for business development and marketing at the Center for Economic Growth, said he recently returned from a conference in Germany and there was tremendous interest in the high-tech industry in New York state.

“Folks in this industry are more aware of what’s happening in this region than we are,” he said.

Categories: Business

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