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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 11, 2005

Tech Valley: County head wants town funds

By Matt Cook

While Albany County’s executive supports it, not every town government is sold on the idea of Tech Valley.

In the rural Hilltowns, Berne’s supervisor is cautious.

"We should commit to this only if we use it in a way that will promote economic development and open space protection," Supervisor Kevin Crosier told the town board last month. "I’m not interested in investing in something that’s going to sprawl a rural community."

Albany County Executive Michael Breslin has pledged 50 cents per capita—nearly $150,000—to contribute to Advancing Tech Valley, a fund created by the Center for Economic Growth and the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce. Breslin has suggested that each municipality in the county do the same.

"It would be a matching contribution," said Kerri Battle, a county spokesperson.

"What Mike Breslin suggested is reasonable," said Curt Reph, campaign coordinator for the Center for Economic Growth. "Everyone is going to benefit somehow."

Reph said the fund is working with every municipality in the county, and, though none have contributed yet, he expects each will.

Joseph Golden, a Berne councilman, is even more wary of Tech Valley than the supervisor; he remembers past promises of tech booms that came to nothing.

"I think it’s a jobs program and it’s a jobs program for people who wear suits and go from meeting to meeting and talk about where they’re going to get their next job," Golden said at the July town board meeting.

Kenneth Runion, supervisor of suburban Guilderland, said his town is not likely to contribute to the fund. He questioned how it would help Guilderland.

The Tech Valley vision

Tech Valley is a movement, propelled largely by local businesspeople, to establish eastern New York as an international center for high-tech business. Lyn Taylor, president of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Tech Valley’s supporters see the area as stretching along the eastern border of the state from Orange County to Canada.

"But clearly the epicenter is the Capital Region," Taylor said.

Although Advancing Tech Valley has a number of goals, Taylor summed up the idea of Tech Valley as "a region that offers excellent opportunities for everyone."

"Our children won’t have to leave here to get a good job," Taylor said.

The Advancing Tech Valley leadership believes Tech Valley is already a reality. They cite the area’s rankings by business magazines as one of the top 20 and 25 regions in which to do business and the more than $5 billion of research and development investments that have been made in the area in recent years.

Many of the new developments in Tech Valley have been driven by colleges and universities, Taylor said. She called it "intellectual capital" and said it is one of the things that makes the area prime for high-tech progress.

For example, the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering recently began the International Venture for Nanolithography, which has already netted $600 million from public and private sources for nanotechnology research.

While she admitted Tech Valley is not as nationally known as some other tech hotspots, like California’s Silicon Valley, Taylor thinks Tech Valley is getting there.

"People all over the country are beginning to know about it," she said. "People are becoming aware as the region continues to progress."

The Advancing Tech Valley campaign has raised over $5 million from donors like General Electric and Niagara Mohawk. Over the next five years, the fund’s organizers hope to raise $11 million altogether.

Reph said that, of that $11 million, about $7.5 million will come from private sources, and the remaining $3.5 million will come from public sources, like municipal governments and state universities and colleges.

The money will be spent in four areas: business growth, business climate, workforce recruitment and retention, and marketing.

The largest chunk, 52 percent, will be spent on marketing. That will include efforts to attract business in nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy, advanced materials, and information technology; creating a Tech Valley portal on the Internet; exhibiting at global trade shows; and giving tours to foreign officials and businesspeople.

In the next five years, Advancing Tech Valley aims to attract an additional $3 billion in tech investments to the area.

Suburban response

All of this is good for business, but for Capital Region towns and cities, it could mean increased traffic and sprawl and a population explosion for which local governments and schools are unprepared.

Runion told The Enterprise Guilderland has received Breslin’s request and has not really discussed the issue yet.

However, he said, "I have a feeling that [the town board] might not vote for it."

If Guilderland, with a population of about 34,000, were to contribute 50 cents per capita, it would be about $17,000, Runion said. He doesn’t see any benefits for the town in return for the investment.

For example, Runion said, all the technology work going on at the University at Albany, part of which is in the Guilderland hamlet of McKownville, is tax exempt, meaning no revenue for the town.

Also, Runion said, Guilderland doesn’t currently have the water resources and infrastructure in place to attract high-tech firms.

Besides all that, there are a lot of unknown factors, Runion said. Often he hears from McKownville residents asking how things like pollution from university projects will affect their quality of life.

"They’re not getting any answers," Runion said.

Before Guilderland can support Tech Valley, Runion said, answers to these questions need to be available.

"The problem that I see is we all talk about Tech Valley and we don’t have a good handle on the problems there could be," he said. "We have a tendency to jump into this without really analyzing the impact and repercussions. More study needs to be done."

Rural response

In Berne, Crosier sees good and bad.

"I believe that we have something to gain out of Tech Valley and we also have something that could harm us from it, and that’s suburban sprawl," Crosier told The Enterprise.

Crosier said Tech Valley, if planned correctly, could bolster a rural economy based on agriculture, recreation, and small locally-owned businesses and shops, making it a destination for day-trippers. However, if done without proper planning, uncontrolled sprawl could occur and ruin the Hilltowns as a natural area, driving recreation-seekers out of the county and into the Catskills or Adirondacks.

"In the Hilltowns, we have one thing that nobody else has. We have rich natural resources," Crosier said. "That needs to be preserved."

Crosier said the Hilltowns should only be players in Tech Valley if part of the effort is to preserve open space and the rural economy. He said he has spoken with Breslin and Tech Valley representatives about his ideas.

"I think they understand," Crosier said.

Though Reph claims the campaign is working with every municipality, Knox Supervisor Michael Hammond told The Enterprise he had never heard of Advancing Tech Valley.

Taylor said Tech Valley will help all towns in the area through county sales tax and that the concerns of towns like Berne will be met.

"We’ve been working with communities to help them determine what they would like to see in their own futures," Taylor said.

Part of that could be the preservation of open space, she said. A portion of the $11 million raised in the campaign is marked for preserving the quality of life in the area.

"We’re not trying to encourage development where development isn’t wanted," Taylor said.

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