3/19/2013 9:42:28 AM
Times Union: Region thrives amid high-tech revolution
There is a quiet revolution gathering velocity in the Capital Region, although no government has been overthrown, no throngs of citizens have protested in public squares and no shots have been fired.
It is being waged far from public view, in secure laboratories where researchers in white lab coats use syringes to squeeze droplets of cells in solution into test tubes in preparation for DNA extraction.
In many cases, it is a revolution not visible to the naked eye, conducted on a nanoscale.
Researchers have come from many countries, bringing intellectual brilliance as well as a fresh dynamism and a spectrum of cultural diversity to the region. Many are engaged in basic research to advance knowledge; others are working toward practical applications: new treatments for cancer and Parkinson's disease; more powerful and smaller computer laptops; new materials to improve the efficiency of power transmission lines; and a synthetic alternative to wringing pulp from pig intestines in Chinese slaughterhouses to produce the blood thinner heparin.
It is a revolution taking place behind the sleek and shiny white facade of the $14 billion University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, or CNSE; amid the sprawling complex of modernistic buildings at the $7 billion GlobalFoundries chip fab in Malta; and deep in labyrinthine, multimillion-dollar laboratory arrays at the GE Global Research facility in Niskayuna and on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.
This high-tech transformation, years in the ripening, represents a sixth age in the ongoing reinvention of the region's economy. It began in the Dutch Colonial era of beaver trading at Fort Orange. It was carried through the westward expansion of trade with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. It moved beyond the region's ascendancy in the Industrial Age with its iron manufacturing and New York Central Railroad operations. It was fueled by a postwar manufacturing boom when Schenectady was "the city that lights and hauls the world," with tens of thousands employed at the General Electric and American Locomotive plants. It was stabilized by the Rockefeller-era expansion of state government marked by construction of Empire State Plaza.
And now, the high-tech revolution is here. It is real, and it is accelerating.