Capital Region

Outlook 2021: New Center for Economic Growth exec. Newcombe found niche in regional rather than local development

Center for Economic Growth Chief of Economic Development Office Katie Newcombe inside her office on State Street in Albany
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Center for Economic Growth Chief of Economic Development Office Katie Newcombe inside her office on State Street in Albany

ALBANY — Katie Newcombe has found her niche in the economic development world: working to benefit an entire region rather than a single town, city or county.

In October, she was named chief economic development officer at the Center for Economic Growth, the No. 2 position at CEG, which serves the eight-county Capital Region.

Previously, she was National Grid’s senior economic developer for the Albany region and before that, director of state economic development efforts in northwest Pennsylvania, where she grew up.

A short stint at Capitalize Albany gave her a greater appreciation for what goes into revitalizing a downtown, but she likes taking the wider view.

“Most of my economic development experience has been at the regional level,” Newcombe said.

Another common factor among her jobs: She usually doesn’t get to stand at the microphone and make the big announcement. But she’s part of the team that made it happen, and that’s just fine with her.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“I don’t think it’s a matter of not getting credit, it’s a lot of people collaborating,” Newcombe said. “If everybody can play their particular role, that project happens.”

She added: “CEG has a unique position because we can take that macro, eight-county view. At its most basic level, CEG’s role is to help drive growth in the Capital Region.”

Winding road

Newcombe grew up in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and studied economics, finance and business at the state university in Erie.

A college internship at a financial services firm led to a full-time job as a financial adviser after graduation, “but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Newcombe said.

Economic development is what piqued her interest, but it wasn’t an easy field to just move into.

Her shot came when there was an opening on the Governors’ Action Team, Pennsylvania’s equivalent of the state-run Empire State Development agency in New York.

“I had really wanted that job,” Newcombe recalled. But she didn’t get it.

She did get a a job offer from the Department of Commerce in North Carolina, where she had relatives, so she moved south in 2007, intending to not return.

Only a year later, she was pitching her new home state at a California biotechnology conference and ran into someone from her old home state doing the same thing.

The person who’d gotten the job she wanted on the Governor’s Action Team didn’t work out, and the team wanted to talk to Newcombe again.

“The move to North Carolina and the subsequent move back to Pennsylvania was really the start of my career,” she said.

Newcombe became a regional representative in September 2008, then director of the northwest region of Pennsylvania in July 2009, a period commonly known as the Great Recession.

“We pushed through at the state level, but the northwest region of Pennsylvania had a large manufacturing base and so [it] very much felt the recession,” she said. “Legacy cities feel the recessions harder and tend to not come back as fast.”

Working in her home state in the region where she grew up had its attractions, but so did a guy she’d met who was living in Albany at the time. They began a long-distance relationship, which was great — except for the long distance.

“I visited a few times and really liked the city and the region,” Newcombe said.

She relocated to the city and married the guy, Leland Belmont. They still live there now, with his son and a cat named Jack who joined their family during the COVID quarantine.

Newcombe changed focus from regional to local for her first job in her new hometown, becoming senior economic developer for Capitalize Albany in February 2013.

“I really liked the Capitalize Albany work because it let me be part of that downtown revitalization effort,” she said. It was a valuable experience, she added, as she’d never concentrated on a single downtown before.

But she stayed with it only until late 2014.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“You find a job when you’re not looking sometimes,” Newcombe said of her move to National Grid.

The regional economic development director retired and Newcombe was chosen to take her place.

The power and gas utility maintains an array of economic programs, ranging from energy efficiency and infrastructure development to site and community development to regional marketing.

It was there that Newcombe hit her stride — helping bring new companies to the region and working to keep existing Capital Region companies here and growing.

“I got involved in a little bit of everything,” she said. “It’s about breaking down barriers and moving projects forward. There’s a lot of ways to do that.”

In some ways, it was the ideal preparation for her current post — taking the broad-view approach to economic development and making it work.

“I’m fascinated by, ‘Why does one region grow and another doesn’t?’ What I do I do because I absolutely love it.

“When I was at National Grid I really led those efforts in the Capital Region.”

Settling in

Newcombe’s work occupies much of her life, but the family makes time for recreation as well, particularly the outdoor variety — canoeing, hiking, camping.

The year 2020 involved a lot of time closer to home.

“We bought a house this past year,” she said. “This is our first house, so a lot of it has been doing stuff around the house. This summer we had a huge garden.”

COVID has affected her new employer as much as any similar organization, changing the way it works but not the work it does.

“Our mission and our work remain the same,” Newcombe said. “We are still performing our core function. Like any nonprofit, we’re making sure that we’re being conservative, but we’re business as usual.”

And those that CEG serves?

“We are seeing some of our key industry clusters, the ones CEG really focuses on, performing well during the pandemic. We are seeing positive indicators in the region as we move into 2021.”

As with the move to National Grid in late 2014, the move to CEG in late 2020 wasn’t something she’d been planning. But the opportunity arose and she took a shot.

CEO Andrew Kennedy left CEG in mid-2020 to move into lobbying. Around the same time, CEG affiliated with the Capital Region Chamber.

Chamber President and CEO Mark Eagan is now CEO and president of CEG.

“Mark handles business operations, governance, high-level strategy,” Newcombe said. “My role is to oversee the staff and really build that strategy and execute on it.”

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

As the proposed affiliation was being examined by both sides, Eagan said the Chamber’s role has been evolving to focus as much on the region as on individual members. The CEG originated as a chamber of commerce offshoot, and the Capital Region Chamber didn’t attempt to duplicate its work. They’re technically still separate entities, but work more closely now.

Moving to CEG, with its renewed focus on regional development, was an easy decision for Newcombe.

“Many of the same people I worked with at National Grid I work with at CEG — National Grid had grants that CEG took advantage of, or companies that worked with CEG took advantage of.”

Accentuate the positive

A short summary of CEG’s role is marketing the region to business and developing the talent to fill the new jobs it seeks to attract.

A typical day could entail working directly with a business considering relocating or expanding, or working with any of the various development agencies across the eight-county Capital Region.

CEG is at its most valuable when working with a company that wants to come to the region but can’t find a place to locate, Newcombe said.

CEG also runs a manufacturing apprenticeship program and is the region’s manufacturing extension partnership, an entity that exists specifically to assist manufacturers.

There are obstacles to overcome, such as New York’s reputation as an expensive state to do business in.

CEG counters that by focusing on the region’s strengths: It’s not prone to environmental disasters, and it has a presence in the research and development, academia, advanced manufacturing, semiconductor, gaming and life sciences sectors.

“You can get out in front with the narrative and talk about the assets that are here … you just have to work a little harder to tell your story,” Newcombe said.

Meanwhile, local perception matters as much as outsiders’ perception.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“I do think that the region has struggled with its own self-confidence,” Newcombe said. Lifelong residents offer different assessments than newcomers such as her, she finds.

“Sometimes we don’t realize how far we’ve come. I think we all wish the pace of change was faster, [but] even the smallest success can be transformational.”

Newcombe likes being part of the transformation.

“Sometimes it’s hard to measure all that we’re doing to advance and promote the region for investment,” she said.

“When we talk about prospects, for instance, we’re promoting the region, doing business development, creating relationships where we can bring someone into the region. Then the county and state seals the deal.

“And then it’s also how we support that project — maybe helping with supply chain or workforce development.”

The recent announcement by the state that a factory would be created at the Port of Albany to build towers for marine wind turbines makes perfect sense: A large swath of real estate is available, materials can be brought in by rail and the finished product — far too big and heavy for land or air transport — can be floated down the Hudson River to the future wind farms off the coast of Long Island.

But the port wasn’t chosen strictly because of its location, Newcombe said: There’s a collective skill set and expertise that made it happen.

“There were a lot of people that brought that deal to the port,” she said, and the opportunity exists now to build off the deal.

“This region has assets that position it well.”

Katie Newcombe at a glance

Age: 39

Born in: Bradford, Pennsylvania

Lives in: Albany

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in economics and finance, master of business administration, all at Pennsylvania State University, Erie

Role: Chief economic development officer, Center for Economic Growth, the Capital Region’s eight-county development agency

Companion animal: Cat named Jack

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Categories: Business, Outlook 2021

Leave a Reply