Utica Observer-Dispatch – Expect high tech in the Mohawk Valley's future.
"We think the entire innovation strategy, which focuses on advanced electronics, UAS (unmanned aerial systems) and cybersecurity are three pivotal strategic thrusts for the Mohawk Valley region," said Steven DiMeo, president of Mohawk Valley EDGE economic development group.
Some of that growth will come to the Marcy nanocenter and the Computer Chip Commercialization Center, known as Quad-C, at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. General Electric, Quad C's anchor tenant, has promised to invest $150 million in the site. But Austrian chip maker AMS backed out of its lease at the nanocenter last year.
That doesn't mean, though, that the site won't still play an important part in the region's economic future. Empire State Development is actively searching for new tenants and the site has a lot to offer, including $600 million in promised state funding, said Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development and commissioner of the New York State Department of Economic Development.
"Anyone who is serious about fab or high tech manufacturing is looking at Utica," he said.
But cybersecurity is the one high-tech field already making a big impact in the region, said Dan Kalil, vice president, commercial and marketing operations for Assured Information Security in Rome. "So while nano is a strong possibility as well as drone, cybersecurity is the one continued market, if you will, or industry or whatever you want to call it, that has grown year over year within the private sector, within the government and within education."
With the explosion of the internet, cybersecurity is becoming less of a niche and more of a mainstream field with many businesses setting up their own cybersecurity divisions, he said.
And local educators are responding to the trend and its workforce needs. "The Utica-Rome region has a long and important history in cybersecurity with the Air Force Research Lab being a true pioneer in the field," said Joseph Giordano, professor of practice and chair of cybersecurity at Utica College. "Utica College provides a leading-edge educational environment where students can learn and apply practical knowledge related to cybersecurity. As a result, the area has a tremendous amount of cyber talent, which is integral to the area's economic revitalization and future."
But the area's high-tech focus for the future doesn't mean all workers need high-tech training. These projects will create ripple effects boosting other sectors in the local economy, DiMeo said. A semiconductor plant with 700 jobs would require a supply chain and trigger residential development, retail sales and more business services, he said.
There definitely will be opportunities for small business in the future if they can find a niche and stay relevant to their customer base, said Roxanne Mutchler, director of the Mohawk Valley Small Business Development Center at SUNY Polytechnic. Service-based businesses are a trend with a good line being servicing products from big box stores, she said.
"Say you buy a TV or something from the big box store," Mutchler said. "They may not have somebody that can repair it. But really, we do see a lot of people that have an idea for a service that they want to offer and there will always be a need for those service-based businesses, especially if some day we do get the chip plant (or another tenant at the site)."
There's still a lot of interest in restaurants, but the key to success often is finding a niche, such as a specialized menu that no one else offers, she said. Many people still want to go into retail, too, she said, but too many small businesses are "missing the boat" by not developing mobile-friendly websites and using social media, she said.
"That is the future. It's the present, but it's definitely the key to the future," Mutchler said.
Where might the region lose jobs?
"I think, for the most part, it would be pretty much not a lot of change in each sector," DiMeo speculated.
Health care will remain the region's largest private employer and manufacturing will hold its own or experience some upticks, he predicted.
But a lot depends on how the national economy does, DiMeo said, and on federal policies under the Trump administration. A reduction in corporate taxes, for example, could help to make the United States more competitive for manufacturing, he said.
"I remain confident, for the most part, I think, that most of the things that are happening in our region are indicative of a renewed sense of confidence on the part of businesses that are willing to invest in our economy," he said.
For a few enterprising individuals, though, the key to the future could be a blast from the past, Mutchley suggested.
"Skilled craftsmen like electricians and plumbers and construction workers that have their own businesses, there is such a shortage," she said. "There is just a huge need out there for these types of people. They can honestly make quite a good living, but people just aren't going into the trades like they used to."