The Capital Region is a national model for high-tech economic transformation, but local officials can’t rest now, speakers at a National Academy of Sciences conference said Wednesday.
Speakers at the symposium at Hudson Valley Community College blended praise for what’s been achieved in the last two decades with exhortations to keep competing for more companies.
With President Barack Obama having visited the region three times to tour high-tech facilities, the White House is watching. The conference is called “New York’s Nanotechnology Model: Building the Innovation Economy.”
“This region is terribly exciting in terms of what’s going on here,” said Jason Miller, a special assistant to the president for manufacturing policy, who moderated one panel discussion. “This really is an important center for innovation. We at the federal government really do want to learn from what has happened here,” he said.
But he and others also warned that having developed a technology cluster means that other regions across the country and around the world will want to take it away.
“You have gone around the first lap of the race really well, but someone needs to remind you that it’s only the first lap,” said Charles Wessner, the National Academy of Sciences’ director of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. “You are now playing in the tall grass with the big animals.”
He urged a continued willingness by local and state leaders to invest in the Tech Valley vision for a high-tech manufacturing economy.
“When corporations say they can go elsewhere, trust me, they can,” Wessner said.
He said the semiconductor industry can lead a national manufacturing resurgence, because computer chips are used in so many other products. “Semiconductor jobs pay better than almost any other industry’s jobs, so the spillover effect is greater,” he said.
GlobalFoundries, which also has manufacturing sites in Germany and Singapore, appears focused for now on expanding its Fab 8 complex in Saratoga County, which is at the heart of the recent transformation.
GlobalFoundries CEO Ajit Manocha, a keynote speaker, said the company is committed to expanding in Malta, where nearly $7 billion has already been spent.
More than 2,000 people work there now, and construction is starting this spring on a technology development center where another 1,000 people will do research and development.
“That’s a $2 billion investment,” Manocha said. “That’s the blueprint for innovation, and the blueprint that we are in this game for a long time.”
GlobalFoundries has also announced plans for a second manufacturing plant, which will cost nearly $15 billion. Those plans remain under environmental review by the town of Malta, and Manocha offered no new information Wednesday on when the company might be ready to proceed.
The company’s world-wide sales grew 30 percent last year, driven by demand for chips for smartphones and other devices. That is leading to the demand for more manufacturing capacity, and speculation the company wants to move quickly.
“You have my commitment that we will continue to grow GlobalFoundries in Malta, New York, and build public-private partnerships,” Manocha told an audience of about 200 that included industry and education leaders.
GlobalFoundries received incentives and tax breaks worth more than $1.3 billion to build Fab 8, but there’s been no discussion — at least publicly — about similar incentives for the second plant.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said the development of the nanotechnology and clean energy industries in the region shows its ability to compete successfully against the rest of the country, but he also offered a warning.
“As a region we can’t afford to be complacent if we’re going to maintain our competitive edge,” he said.
The conference will continue today at HVCC, with a keynote speech by Alain Kaloyeros, senior vice-president and CEO of the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering, another of the region’s high-tech anchors. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Jackson was also among Wednesday’s speakers.
Quality education has been cited as a key component in attracting more companies to Tech Valley.
Tonko said, “It’s a three-legged stool, with the private sector, education and government.”