Fulton County is “behind the eight ball” when it comes to positioning itself for economic spillover from the GlobalFoundries project in Malta, and a lack of cooperation between municipalities is responsible.
That’s what Fulton County EDC President Mike Reese told a crowd of local leaders and concerned residents Wednesday night at Broadalbin-Perth High School during a community forum to discuss the potential impact of the multibillion-dollar GlobalFoundries microchip fabrication plant in Malta. The event was organized by Broadalbin-Perth Schools Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson and sought to help inform the community about the need to plan and prepare for potential growth from the project.
While most of the speakers during a panel discussion talked in general terms about the kind of growth a chip fab plant can bring to a region, Reese’s comments provided a stark contrast. He said Fulton County and Montgomery County have a lack of ready industrial sites to offer to supply chain companies that will likely be springing up in the area to service GlobalFoundries. He said the assets the counties do have, like sewer and water services, are tied up in counterproductive joint municipal ownership agreements that threaten to make the area unattractive to private industry.
Reese said the two counties have been working on a regional business park plan, that could be located on Route 30A near the Johnstown Industrial Park, but the city of Johnstown and the town of Mohawk have repeatedly failed to agree on a tax-sharing plan needed for the park to happen. He said although the region is strategically placed, it won’t matter if the local government’s don’t learn to cooperate better.
“We have a lack of serviceable industrial sites. The last time the industrial parks were developed in Fulton County was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We lack some of the financial resources our competition has in terms of marketing and trying to deal with the companies that are looking to get close to GlobalFoundries and set up that supply chain. I believe we also lack a diverse housing stock. We’re a rural county, we have single-family homes … many of the young people in the innovative economy want a condominium or a townhouse,” he said.
“The resources we do have tend to be centered around the cities and the municipal system and we really aren’t taking advantage of them. As a county we need to decide what we want to do going forward. We need to be extremely business-friendly if we are going to attract the businesses that are going to supply GlobalFoundries. If we put up roadblocks and we don’t have the correct zoning in place and we aren’t willing to provide incentives they are going to go somewhere that it’s easy to do business.”
Reese would not place blame on any one municipality for making the two counties less competitive but said the region needs to find a way to cooperate better with the government of the city of Johnstown, which has joint control with Gloversville of the largest sewer plant in Fulton County.
Rocco Ferraro, the executive director of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, was not one of the officials who attended the forum. He said Fulton County and Montgomery County are both right to consider the potential for economic growth emanating from the chip fab plant because the supply chain for the company could extend as far west as Utica.
He cautioned, however, that most spillover tends to occur closer to the plant and Fulton County’s best chance to benefit from GlobalFoundries probably comes from providing serviceable industrial sites, possibly for warehouses, and for providing the kind of community college training high-tech workers will need.
Speakers at the forum seemed to agree that one bright spot for the region is Fulton-Montgomery Community College. The college’s Center for Engineering and Technology includes an atomic microscope and a nanotechnology clean room, like the ones that will be used by GlobalFoundries.
FMCC President Dustin Swanger said the number of students earning degrees that would qualify them for jobs at a company like GlobalFoundries has risen from as few as 15 a few years ago to approximately 75 for the current school year. He said residents of the two counties that may have lost their jobs should also consider coming to the college and earning a new degree.
“Some people get very afraid when you talk about technology because they think that means math. Don’t worry, we’ll get you through the math,” he said.
Mike Russo, the director of U.S. Government and Regulatory Affairs for GlobalFoundries, spoke at the forum. He said the region should be excited about the potential for GlobalFoundries in part because the company is no longer specifically tied to microchip designer AMD. GlobalFoundries is a spin-off company devoted to manufacturing, he explained, and now serves many customers besides just AMD, which should significantly extend the life of the chip fab plant.
Russo said people shouldn’t put all of their eggs in one basket in terms of hoping for a job at GlobalFoundries. He said most of the jobs locals will likely qualify for will need two-year degrees in either science, math or technology. He said the degree requirements aren’t specific and a background in any of those three could be sufficient for a low level job.
Tomlinson showed a chart illustrating how as many as 65 percent of the jobs of the future will likely require two-year degrees, significantly more than the jobs available for people with four-year degrees. He said public education needs to focus on providing science, technology, engineering and math training to students so they will be poised to take advantage of the kind of growth GlobalFoundries could foster.