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Builders bullish on region’s prospects

Builders bullish on region’s prospects

As what increasingly looks like a recession takes hold of the national economy, Capital Region devel

As what increasingly looks like a recession takes hold of the national economy, Capital Region developers are trying to deliver to consumers an uplifting message: You live around Albany.

The Capital Region Builders & Remodelers Association Tuesday kicked off a promotional campaign designed to highlight the region’s economic growth at a time of national contraction.

At Proctors’ GE Theatre, the Albany trade association sponsored a symposium attended by builders, suppliers, bankers and local government officials. Business leaders from the Luther Forest Technology Campus to the National Association of Home Builders attempted to convince a crowd of more than 400 that the region’s economy is the “shining example” of the nation.

The CRBRA plans to follow up the symposium with an approximately $40,000, two-month marketing campaign featuring television and Internet advertisements. The ads will stress how the region is “building momentum.” The organization is focusing on that message because it worries the national economy’s downturn is eclipsing the awareness of local progress.

“The more we can tell the story, the more it’s going to have a positive impact,” said CRBRA Executive Officer Pam Krison.

On a day when the U.S. Census Bureau reported a 0.6 percent decline in housing starts and a 7.8 percent drop in housing permits issued in February, local business leaders painted a brighter picture. They noted how if the region suffers from anything, it is a lack of self-awareness.

The symposium’s moderator, former WRGB/Channel 6 anchor Jack Aernecke, drove that point home by asking audience members questions, such as how many people work at the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale (2,000). Audience members incorrectly answered Aernecke’s queries.

“I think this region has a low self-esteem,” said Jeff Lawrence, executive vice president of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany.

Some of that low opinion is carryover from the 1960s and early 1970s, when the region was largely viewed as a declining “rust belt” city. But that changed after George Low became president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1976, said Michael Wacholder, director of the Rensselaer Technology Park in North Greenbush.

Low, who had headed the redesign of the Apollo spacecraft, helped establish a technology incubator and various partnerships that laid the groundwork for turning the region into Tech Valley, said Wacholder.

In November, General Electric Healthcare broke ground on a $165 million digital X-ray mammography facility at the Rensselaer technology Park. Another big technology project that captured builders’ attention was Advanced Micro Devices’ proposal to build a $3.2 billion chip manufacturing plant at the Luther Forest campus in Malta.

Luther Forest Executive Director Michael Reylea said road development work will start at the campus in late April. While AMD has not committed to the project yet, it wants the Malta site to be shovel-ready by January, Reylea said.

“Most of the country is not where Albany is, and we do have significant problems,” said NAHB Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President Jerry Howard, who spoke at the symposium over the phone.

Howard, a Catskill native, said continued strength in Albany’s home construction market puts it in the company of the Carolinas, Texas and Pacific Northwest. He said the local market is the “shining example of what housing markets should be in our nation.”

But that is not to say the region has escaped the housing slump unscathed.

The slowing pace of exiting home sales has softened demand for newly-constructed homes nationwide. Area municipalities last year issued an estimated 900 single-family housing permits — half of the 1,800 permits issued in 2006. However, municipalities last year issued an estimated 900 multifamily permits, up 50 percent from 2006, according to NAHB.

Krison, at the CRBRA, said residents need to see how the combination of developments at Luther Forest, Albany Nano and elsewhere will transform the area. She said it is hard to put them all in perspective, prompting the need for the spring promotional campaign.

“We live here everyday. We don’t see the change,” Krison said.

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