The Cuomo administration is backing a major effort aimed at turning the Buffalo Niagara region into a hub for nanotechnology – something that has been a tremendous success story for Albany and Utica.
The plan, spearheaded by the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, asks Buffalo-area developers to come up with plans for a nanotechnology center that would create an economic development hub in Buffalo for high-tech research, manufacturing and training.
The nanotech center in Albany already has brought billions of dollars to the capitol region, and a satellite project in Utica is expected to attract $1.5 billion or more to that Central New York city.
“The governor sees a great opportunity to build the nanotech industry across upstate, and Buffalo is ripe for that,” said Stephen Janack, a spokesman for the Albany nanoscience college. Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at the atomic or molecular level and can involve a variety of sciences and industries.
The project would be part of a state-backed initiative to expand the reach of the nanotechnology college beyond its successful roots in Albany and the sprawling Marcy Nanocenter outside Utica. Six high-tech companies announced earlier this month that they would invest more than $1.5 billion in that community to create a second nanotechnology center upstate employing more than 1,000 people.
In documents distributed to developers within the past two weeks, the nanotechnology college said it seeks proposals to create “state-of-the-art facilities and cutting edge infrastructure” at an undetermined site in the Buffalo Niagara region. The center would serve as an economic development hub for research, workforce training and manufacturing for the nanotechnology industry.
The state circulated a similar proposal earlier this month in Syracuse, where the nanotechnology college already has a foothold through its Nanotechnology Innovation and Commercialization Excelerator, located in the massive Lockheed Martin factory, which is visible from the Thruway.
The Buffalo proposal does not place a dollar value on the envisioned center or outline its potential size or location. However, one official familiar with the plan said the investment is expected to be significant.
The proposed public-private partnership for a Buffalo-area site represents a further expansion of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s innovation strategy for New York State, said Janack, the Albany nanoscience spokesman.
The facility would likely be modeled on the existing Albany and future Utica nano sites, in which the state invests money in equipment that is then used by private technology companies in a shared arrangement.
“I believe the governor is interested in leveraging the expertise at CNSE and the template pioneered at Albany Nano to induce private-sector investment and jobs particularly in next-generation emerging industries in Western New York,” said Howard Zemsky, the co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.
The idea is to seek private developers who could design, build and finance a facility that ideally would take advantage of what officials in Albany see as Buffalo’s expanding strength: biotechnology and biomedical research and development, Janack said.
The Buffalo center could play off the talent and expertise at the growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and its small core of life sciences companies, as well as the impending move of the University at Buffalo’s Medical School three years from now. It also would dovetail with the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council’s focus on health and life sciences as a prime source of future growth, including the $250 million project with Albany Molecular Research to create a hub for drug research and development and testing.
Zemsky said those investments, coupled with the research now done at local colleges and universities, could become a “compelling” magnet for next-generation companies.
The proposal circulated among developers seeks a company with a proven track record that would help finance the construction of the Buffalo center and help land tenants for the high-tech facility.
Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. is reviewing the request but has not yet decided whether it will seek to get involved, said Anne Duggan, a spokeswoman for the company.
The prospective new nanotech center is another high-tech selling point for the region, said Paul Pfeiffer, a spokesman for Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. He noted BNE, which focuses on marketing the region to businesses, has been actively involved in promoting a planned massive business park in Genesee County known as STAMP as a future home for chip fabricators.
“It just enhances the state’s commitment to not only advanced manufacturing, but advanced manufacturing in the whole nano-semiconductor space,” he said of the planned nanotech center.
The proposal would tie in with Cuomo’s push to spur economic development and innovation upstate, in part, by trying to duplicate the success of the nanotechnology initiative that has blossomed at the University at Albany campus over the past 20 years.
The nanotechnology college, which was spun off from the University at Albany this summer to become the state university system’s 65th college, has grown into a multibillion-dollar empire with more than 3,100 scientists, researchers, professors and students, as well as a growing national reputation.
The Albany center has attracted more than $17 billion in private investment both on and around the campus. The college provides the space and tools that companies might not otherwise be able to afford, while assisting with the new technology and working to ensure corporate secrets don’t fall prey to corporate espionage. Companies from IBM and Intel to Samsung use the center’s machines to develop new ways to put more and more information on smaller and smaller chips used in cellphones, computers, cars and a wide assortment of products.
The state is aiming to create a second major nanocenter in the Utica suburb of Marcy, where six companies earlier this month agreed to make a massive investment in a new facility where they can conduct research and development on computer chip packaging, lithography development and commercialization at the SUNY Institute of Technology.
The state also announced last month that the Albany college will lead the development of an adjacent computer chip manufacturing site in Marcy, with the potential for three fabrication facilities.
Janack said final bids from developers are due Dec. 10, and plans are to make as quick a decision as possible. The bidding is being overseen by Fort Schuyler Management Corp., a not-for-profit entity that is affiliated with the Albany nanoscience college.
Officials from Cuomo’s office did not have an immediate comment.