New York State would love to get a bite of Apple Inc., which plans to move some of its Macintosh computer production from China to the United States next year.
Whether the Empire State is in the running for the manufacturing operation is not clear. Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive officer, has not specified where the company will make the Macs, and that has only fueled speculation.
An Apple plant would be a high-profile catch wherever it lands, both in terms of the investment and the publicity associated with a prominent company bringing back U.S. manufacturing jobs. Cook said Apple will spend $100 million on the project, creating opportunities for suppliers that would support the plant.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was asked on an Albany radio show this week whether Apple was the unnamed company behind a large-scale high-tech project reportedly scouting the Albany and Utica regions as potential candidates.
"We're shopping a lot of businesses at any given time," Cuomo told the host, Fred Dicker. "Apple has a lot of competition obviously for their location, and I don't think they're anywhere yet in their decision-making."
California-based Apple has faced criticism for the working conditions in plants where its products are made in China and for its failure to use American workers to make its popular consumer electronics. Bringing some of that work stateside is seen as a plus for Apple's image, as well as a boost for U.S. manufacturing.
State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, wants Apple to pick the Buffalo area for its production. He made his pitch in a letter to Cook last week.
"Buffalo is an ideal site for Apple's new American production line not only because of our skilled workforce, but also because of the low-cost power accessible through the nearby Niagara Power Project and our strategic geographic location along the nation's border with Canada," Kennedy wrote.
Apple's media representatives did not respond to a message Tuesday to comment on whether the company was considering New York. The governor's press office cited Cuomo's statement in the radio interview as his view on the topic.
Albany publications have reported that a global consulting firm, working on behalf of an undisclosed client, is considering the Albany and Utica regions as potential sites for a high-tech business prospect dubbed "Project Azalea." But it appears that prospect might be entirely different from a U.S. Apple operation.
Tom Kucharski, chief executive officer of Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, said he couldn't talk specifically about trying to lure Apple, due to confidentiality commitments.
But Kucharski said in general, a state and a region have to make a credible case that they have the attributes, such as a large tract of land ready to use; an educated, available workforce; and nearby colleges, that high-tech companies want.
"It's a lot of moving parts on these really big projects to get in the game," he said. Then the key is to stay in the running, with more specific information, as the prospect cuts down its list of favorites, he said.
In Genesee County, plans are progressing for a high-tech business park that would seem to be a suitable setting for Apple or a computer chip-fabricating plant. The Western New York Science Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park, or STAMP, would consist of more than 1,200 acres aimed at attracting technology-intensive companies.
The Town of Alabama this week voted, 5-0, in favor of a rezoning that will help STAMP move forward. Steven G. Hyde, chief executive officer of the Genesee County Economic Development Center, called the vote a "major milestone" for the project, which has been several years in the making.
Backers of STAMP are working on securing funding, acquiring land and designing the infrastructure to make the site ready for businesses. Taking care of those steps will give business prospects added confidence about the park's plans, Hyde said.
If Apple's timetable for starting U.S. manufacturing gets stretched out, giving STAMP more time to take shape, the Genesee County business park would be an ideal fit, Hyde said. "That's exactly the type of thing that STAMP is being built for."
As for Project Azalea, Hyde said STAMP is probably too early in its own development cycle to "go hard" at that prospect, which seems to be moving closer to choosing a location.
But he noted there are plans for chip-fabricating plants on the near horizon, and economic development officials got positive feedback when they talked up STAMP at an industry conference in San Jose, Calif.
Hyde said the Town of Alabama's vote was an important signal of local support for STAMP. A survey of residents and landowners found 68 percent of respondents were in favor of the project, he said.
The STAMP site is five miles north of the Pembroke exchange on the State Thruway. Advocates say the business park would benefit both the Buffalo and Rochester regions, by creating thousands of jobs and generating work for suppliers.