Foss: The SI Group stays put in Schenectady County

The SI Group headquarters in Niskayuna.
The SI Group headquarters in Niskayuna.

The SI Group’s decision to vacate its longtime corporate home and move elsewhere was widely regarded as bad news, at least for Schenectady County. 

Flash forward a few months, and the news seems anything but bad. 

Yes, the SI Group is leaving its 80-acre campus on Balltown Road in Niskayuna. 

But the 112-year-old chemical manufacturer isn’t going very far. 

The company is essentially moving right down the road, to the Golub Corp. headquarters on Nott Street in Schenectady. All that chatter predicting a move to southern Saratoga County turned out to be wrong. 

Should we really be so surprised? 

Schenectady County is no longer the hapless underdog it once was when it comes to economic development. 

It has shown that it is a major player when it comes to attracting new businesses and investment or, as is the case with the SI Group’s move to Schenectady, simply retaining jobs. 

Saratoga County is a desirable location for many companies – but Schenectady County is, too. 

That said, the SI Group isn’t staying in Schenectady County out of the goodness of its heart. 

The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority offered the company a very generous incentive package – $250,000 toward the cost of retrofitting its new space at Golub Corp. and another $175,000 in moving costs. 

This is economic development done right. 

It keeps 185 jobs in Schenectady County and prevents a local business from decamping to another community. 

It should also contribute to Schenectady’s ongoing rebirth, by boosting the city’s private sector workforce and possibly getting more people to experience what downtown has to offer. 

Back in August, I wrote that there’s “always a chance – perhaps a slight chance, but still, a chance – that the (SI Group) will stay in Schenectady County.”

In retrospect, I should have been more bullish about the county’s prospects for holding onto the SI Group. 

At the time, Metroplex Development Authority chair Ray Gillen told The Daily Gazette that he planned to do everything possible to keep the SI Group in Schenectady County. His track record suggests there’s no reason to doubt his sincerity, or his willingness to spend big in the name of economic development. 

It’s been a big month for economic development in the Capital Region. 

The state announced its annual “pork-barrel-spending-by-another-name” awards last week, handing out gazillions in taxpayer money to projects aimed at revitalizing upstate. 

One project I was happy to see left off the list of awards was the $30 million aquatic center planned for Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor. 

I have nothing against this project, but I’m perplexed by the emerging consensus among developers and other assorted big-wigs that a high-end swimming complex ought to be a key element of Schenectady’s downtown revitalization efforts. 

In all my conversations and exchanges with residents about what downtown Schenectady really needs, not one person has said, “You know, what this city needs is a world-class aquatics facility with four pools.” 

The city could use a public swimming pool – this has been true ever since the Capital District YMCA vacated its longtime home on lower State Street and opened a pool-less and rather bare-bones gymnasium in Center City. But how much will the community really benefit from a fancy new aquatics center that’s being touted as something that will bring “more than 100,000 visitors each year to Schenectady”?

That sounds more like a project conceived with tourists in mind than the people who actually live in Schenectady.

As for what downtown Schenectady really needs, one item I’ve heard mentioned numerous times in the past week is a grocery store. 

With any luck, bringing a grocery store to downtown will become a priority for the panel tasked with figuring out how to spend the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award Schenectady received from the state earlier this year. 

A big new aquatics center would certainly make a splash. 

But it seems that Schenectady residents have their hearts set on simpler things. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion

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