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Mohawk Valley group seeks state STEM funding

Mohawk Valley group seeks state STEM funding

A handful of leaders from across the Mohawk Valley made their case Wednesday morning for $500 millio

A handful of leaders from across the Mohawk Valley made their case Wednesday morning for $500 million in the state’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative, building their strategy on STEM industries, agribusiness and tourism.

The panel presented its plan, called “Sparking Transformation,” to a group of state officials in Albany during day two of the state’s annual Regional Economic Development Council proposals. The Capital Region’s plan was presented Tuesday.

Larry Gilroy, co-chairman of the Mohawk Valley REDC, said the state’s offer of $500 million to three regions, modeled after the Buffalo Billion initiative, “really changed things in the Mohawk Valley.”

“We pulled together people from across the six counties in an unprecedented way,” he said.

The group called itself MV500 and spent most of the year gathering information and crafting its strategy, which was well received by officials Tuesday morning.

The plan is to build on the success of the Marcy Nanocenter at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica to build a “nano corridor” from Utica to Albany, as well as building a center for drone research and development at the former Griffiss Air Force Base, now a business and tech park, in Rome.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, praised the presentation and said he was “struck by the number of projects that are ready to go in your region.”

If the MV500 plan is funded, its creators promised 3,100 jobs in year one with more than 6,000 indirect jobs.

“Bottom line: $3.8 billion in private sector investment,” said Robert Geer, senior vice president and COO of SUNY Polytechnic Institute and an MVREDC co-chairman.

That’s $4.3 billion with the $500 million from the URI added in, Geer said, which will bring the Mohawk Valley more than 17,000 high-paying jobs over 15 years.

“This is not a ‘build it and they will come approach,’ ” he said. “These are real companies, real investments, real jobs from day one.”

The presenters noted the region is one of the state’s poorest, with a quarter of the population living in poverty and an average annual income of $38,000, the lowest of the 10 Economic Development Council regions.

“This was a one-time shot, a one-time chance for us to change the trajectory of the Mohawk Valley economy,” Geer told state officials. “You asked for transformation, and that’s exactly what we’re delivering.”

The video that closed the presentation showed a vision of the Mohawk Valley in which residents of stylish loft apartments wake up, admire a view of rivers and valleys, go to work in a high-tech field, and take in some culture on the weekends.

Projected wage boost

In the 180-page URI application, the group projects a 60 percent increase in the area’s average wage by 2030, up to $61,000, a 31 percent increase in the population of college-educated residents, a 12 percent increase in jobs, and a 50 percent increase in STEM jobs if the initiative is funded.

“These are the high-wage, high-growth industries that are going to be key,” Geer said. “They attract global investment, they enable global exports, they enable the game-changing tech clusters that are growing up around New York state.”

Other projects under the STEM umbrella nominated for state funding include the Global Village at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, investment in Gloversville’s Robison & Smith, AGT Services in Amsterdam and New Age Renewables in Johnstown, and three Nathan Littauer Hospital projects in Gloversville, Perth and Fonda.

In agribusiness, the plan aims to modernize farming techniques through investment and education, attract and support younger farmers, and foment innovation. It projects increasing the percent of profitable farms from 46 percent to 50 percent by 2030, increasing the number of young farmers by 15 percent, creating 140 new connections between producers and consumers, and increasing the number of craft breweries in the region by 10 percent.

“If you’ve ever talked to some of the folks at [SUNY] Cobleskill, they are so passionate about agriculture and it’s really, really exciting to look at the future,” said FMCC President and MV500 Co-chair Dustin Swanger. “I encourage you not to think about the old farm. Farming is changing.”

The plan calls for investing in the area’s craft brew and food industries and focusing on creating regional networks to market its recreational assets to tourists. It aims for an increase in visitor spending from 14 percent of all spending to 18 percent by 2025, with 50 new tourism-related firms.

Through a focus on at-risk populations like immigrants, refugees and struggling veterans, the plan aims to decrease the region’s poverty rate by 10 percent by 2030, and increase the high school graduation rate among targeted populations by 25 percent.

The community development aspect of the plan includes a strategy called “One Percent For Us All,” which would devote 1 percent of the funding for every project in the URI initiative to elements like trails, art, cultural programming, and access to underserved communities.

“This $500 million is a huge deal for us,” Gilroy said in closing the presentation. “People are fired up about what’s happening. The energy is real, it’s outstanding.”

The three winners of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative are expected to be announced before the end of the year, along with the REDC award announcements.

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