We’re still not sure whether the split between UAlbany and the College of Nanosciences and Engineering (starting next year the college will become its own independent campus within the SUNY system) was necessary — or necessarily a good thing. But we have no such doubts about the college’s purchase of Kiernan Plaza, a landmark building in downtown Albany, for use as a hub for “Smart Cities” technologies. We think that’s a great thing.
The nanosciences college is a major success, credited with attracting millions of private research dollars, numerous high-tech companies, and the GlobalFoundries chip manufacturing plant to the region. But, like the college itself, which sits on UAlbany’s uptown campus, many of those jobs, and the people who hold them, are outside the region’s cities. Physically as well as academically, it’s a thing apart.
In the kind of deal that can give collaboration a good name, the nanocollege is now casting its eyes and innovative powers toward downtown Albany. Last week, with the help of a $3 million state grant that came through Gov. Cuomo’s competitive regional economic development council process, it purchased Kiernan Plaza, the beautifully restored old Union Station that has been vacant since 2009. There it will establish a center for research in Smart Cities technologies, which use such things as sensors and computer chips to improve traffic flow, highway conditions, infrastructure, bridges, utilities, etc. Downtown Albany will be a laboratory for research and a model for new products and systems.
The nanocollege will partner with a major tenant, the Colonie-based engineering firm Clough Harbour & Associates, which will move its headquarters and 30 top executives to the center. The college will supply the company with recent graduates, interns and resources to turn research into technological advances. Two other partners will be Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region and Girls Inc., which will provide education and work force training programs for young people from the inner cities, who are traditionally underrepresented in the science and engineering fields.
This venture is expected to create 150 new jobs and generate millions in investment, while improving the vitality of downtown, its infrastructure and its residents’ lives. Congratulations and kudos to all involved.