Off the Northway: We’re not center of tech universe yet
Even with the GlobalFoundries’ factory up and running in Luther Forest, there are plenty of people who work in the semiconductor industry and don’t know where we live from New York City.
Incredible as that may sound to those of us who think we live in the center of the universe and have strong views on upstate/downstate, Saratoga County’s chief marketer said it’s true.
For that matter, plenty of people in the general public remain unaware the $1.3 billion the state bet on an AMD computer chip plant in 2006 wasn’t just part of some pork-scented boondoggle organized by Joe Bruno.
OK, maybe it was. But the bet has paid off. There are now more than 1,100 people working at GlobalFoundries Fab 8 — GlobalFoundries being the new company formed when AMD sold its manufacturing plants to Abu Dhabi investors in 2009. Test chip production is under way, and a year from now, high-powered chips should be flying out the door.
Thanks to GlobalFoundries, much of the tech world knows who we are — but much of it doesn’t.
“People out in the world don’t know who we are. You say New York state and they think New York City, and that’s the way things are,” said Dennis Brobston, who should know: He’s traveling to California and Europe to try to attract new businesses to Saratoga County.
He said he’s met recently with 14 site selectors — the marriage arrangers of the business world — and only one had any sense of the Capital Region’s business, technology and educational assets, and at least one flatly rejected New York. “The cost of doing business is too high,” he was told.
Brobston has taken people to GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna — one of the great scientific research centers in the world — and his guests told him they had had no idea it was there.
“It just goes to show we have to keep talking about ourselves,” Brobston told the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce over bacon, eggs and hash browns the other morning in Saratoga Springs.
But in a sign of the strings being pulled to dent the public consciousness, a Christian Science Monitor story this week on the return of American manufacturing carried a Malta dateline and talked extensively about GlobalFoundries and the local plans.
Longtime skeptics about Fab 8 are starting to acknowledge it’s actually there now, but insist “they could be gone in 10 years — the next time someone else offers them $1 billion to build a new plant.”
It could go down that way. The company’s legal commitment to keep at least 1,200 jobs in Malta is for seven years. At least in the abstract, a computer chip plant is something any community would want, and states are going to compete for them just like baseball barons who think a slugging first basemen will fill stands and sell beer and jumbo dogs.
In practice, though, building a new factory where there used to be a historic pine forest means an unfamiliar glow in the night sky and weird noises and lots more traffic and the kind of community turmoil that goes with change. Malta officials can attest.
Kudos to Collyer
Providence town Supervisor John Collyer took a stand this past week on the addiction of our elected officials to their smartphones. He asked everyone at a county meeting he was chairing to turn theirs off, as several people toyed with them.
“I find it annoying and unprofessional and discourteous when someone’s cellphone goes off. That’s how I feel,” Collyer said at the meeting of Saratoga County’s Racing Committee.
“I just tweeted your picture,” responded Matt Veitch, the Republican from Saratoga Springs who is chairman of the county’s Technology Committee. All in good fun, we trust.