The name “Gillen” keeps popping up in the Metroplex narrative because Ray Gillen is the public face of the agency, and of economic development in Schenectady County.
That role was solidified early in his tenure, through his own efforts and the work of the Democrats newly in control of city and county government at the time.
Schenectady County, one of the smallest counties in the state, had a whopping 29 economic development agencies in 1998, many working in ignorance of each other, or even in competition.
The plan — get rid of most of those entities and have Metroplex lead a single, unified development effort for the whole county — prompted some acrimony, but it proved doable with single-party control.
Today, there are just six entities: Metroplex; four others all run by Metroplex and all filling a specific niche; and the Glenville Local Development Corp.
As an inevitable result of the consolidation, longtime Schenectady development czar George Robertson was ousted in 2006 after 20 years on the job. Looking back now, Robertson sees that was inevitable.
“To make a community develop you have to have one of two things,” he said: A single primary agency or very good collaboration among multiple agencies.
“Either model works, but you have to have one or the other. … If you have neither, you have trouble.”
Clearly, Schenectady County did not have either 20 years ago.
Does it now?
“It seems to,” Robertson said.
He hasn’t been back to Schenectady, but keeps in touch with Metroplex board member Neil Golub and former Mayor Al Jurczynski, and he has heard positive reports.
That one other development agency, the Glenville LDC, still exists because of regulations on the use of federal dollars filling its revolving loan fund. But it is not a competitor of Metroplex. Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle, who as a Republican is in the minority among Schenectady County politicians, said Metroplex works cooperatively with the town and has benefited it greatly.
"We have a great relationship with Metroplex," he said. "It's a relationship that politics doesn't seep into even a little bit.
"He's brought a lot of jobs into Glenville," Koetzle said of Gillen. "I credit him with the redevelopment of our business park."
To complement his unpaid post as Metroplex chairman, and underline his unified leadership, Gillen was named Schenectady County economic development director, and until recently was the highest-paid county employee. (His $186,456 total salary was just third-highest in 2017.)
He works a lot of hours for that paycheck.
More on Metroplex at 20:
- Downtown greatly changed after 20 years of Metroplex
- Over $140 million invested so far by Metroplex
- Schenectady County lags on some economic metrics
- Galesi Group is Metroplex's biggest collaborator
- Photos: 20 years of Metroplex: Before and After
Emails from Gillen often pop into an inbox before sunrise or after sunset. He’s reachable late and early, answering his retro flip phone with the same three-word greeting, which often comes out sounding like two words or even one word:
“This is Ray.”
This is what the Niskayuna native and longtime Schenectady resident wanted after stints in federal and state government — to boost his hometown. After 14 years, he still works relentlessly at it.
“I’m available 24 hours a day. It’s just part of the job," he said.
"When you’re dealing with a potential investor, you have to be extremely responsive to them. It’s really a ‘time is of the essence’ business.”