September 30, 2012
By: Tom Tobin
Source: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
The New York state Thruway is a 570-mile ribbon of asphalt that is a
general topic of conversation mostly for the tolls it charges.
in economic terms, the Thruway is New York’s primary commercial artery,
linking east to west and north to south. Without it, western New York’s
and the Rochester region’s ties to Albany and the Hudson Valley would
be far more tenuous.
That matters in many respects. But it
matters especially now in connecting this region to an astonishing, even
historic, spurt of high-tech growth in the Albany area, built primarily
on the promise of nanotechnology to transform the worlds of
communication, energy, manufacturing, transportation and other sectors.
is a word thrown around a lot these days. President Barack Obama drops
it into speeches about the future economy. It has come to represent
far-reaching science that has come crashing into ordinary lives much as
computers did 40 years ago.
Futurists transmit the message
often. Ray Kurzwell, a scientist and advocate of solar power, said that
computer microprocessing speed doubles every year and a half or so. “Why
wouldn’t other microtechnologies develop at the same rate or faster?”
Nanotech is microtechnology at the extreme. A
nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A mere 14 nanometers is the width
of 40 atoms. Nanoprocessing is the manipulation of atoms and molecules
to do an array of human tasks and services on a level no human eye will
ever see unaided.
Why is this important? Because the
smaller something is, the less energy it expends, the easier it can be
stored and communicated in large numbers, the more difficult it is to
Fifty years ago, computers were the size of a closet. Now, much better ones are the size of a postage stamp.
matters, and the smaller the better. Nano-sized optical sensors are
used in smartphones. Every time an iPhone or Droid screen flips from
vertical to horizontal, a nano-level gyro is doing the work.
U.S. soldiers in Iraq needed a better way to detect roadside bombs as
they drove the back roads, sensors using nanotechnology were developed.
health care, tiny embedded sensors are being developed to detect
changes within the body long before a seizure occurs or an illness
It’s an amazingly rich and diverse technological field.
Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128 corridor won the personal
computer race. But the chase for nanotech gold is by no means settled.
And the Rochester region is in the thick of it.
reasons that upstate is a good match for the burgeoning nanotech field
are the same reasons that such local business advocates as Mark
Peterson, CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise, and Sandy Parker, CEO of
the Rochester Business Alliance, have pitched for years. They and other
advocates cite the student and faculty intellectual power emerging from
research centers like Rochester Institute of Technology and the
University of Rochester.
They extoll the engineering skills
that built Eastman Kodak, Xerox and Bausch + Lomb over the decades. And
they point to upstate’s ready access to fresh water, low-cost
hydropower and an affordable lifestyle.
“We have what these
companies want, including sites for large-scale development, university
resources and a sizable population,” said Steve Hyde, president and CEO
of the Genesee County Economic Development Center.
years, Hyde has been the leading regional voice behind development of a
1,243-acre site in Genesee County for high-tech companies seeking large,
so-called shovel-ready locations for advanced manufacturing plants. The
project is called STAMP, an acronym for Science Technology and Advanced
Manufacturing Park, and, until recently it has been a pretty tough
Now, it’s a priority project of the Finger Lakes
Regional Economic Development Council, having been so designated earlier
this month. It has gone from vague promise to front-runner.
Cue nanotech. And the Thruway, which is a mere five miles from the STAMP site. And, to a certain degree, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
has advocated for a “Thruway corridor” of affiliated businesses after
seeing the billions in private investment that computer chip powerhouses
such as IBM, Intel, Samsung and GlobalFoundries have put into the
Albany area, and the explosive development of the University at Albany’s
College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
The goal of these
companies is to marry their chip-making research and development skills
with the enormous promise of nanoscale engineering. The Albany nanotech
enterprise has reached westward and southward to Utica, East Fishkill
and Yorktown Heights and to the former Infotonics Center in Canandaigua,
now called the Smart System Technology & Commercialization Center.
affiliation — the STC Center is now part of the Albany nanoscale
college — has made all the difference for that facility, which was
envisioned as a business incubator melding regional colleges and
businesses. It struggled in that role. The new one is a better, more
According to STC officials, the number of
scientists, researchers, engineers and other high-tech personnel working
at the Canandaigua location has more than doubled since 2010.
the addition of more private industry partners, project revenue has
risen by 46 percent, with total revenue rising by 31 percent per year
during that same period.
“The Albany connection has been
fantastic, and the STC Center is very compatible with what they’re
doing,” said Mike Manikowski, executive director of the Ontario County
Office of Economic Development. He said efforts to develop the region’s
high-tech capabilities — tied to the skills engendered by the
universities and such companies as Kodak — have been ongoing for years.
nanotechnology, with its broad reach and emerging promise, is the real
thing, Manikowski said. “Albany is a world leader in this.” And so
Ontario County is going all out to make the most of the STC Center’s
There’s a 50-acre site adjacent to the
STC Center on Route 332 in Canandaigua that Manikowski said is ready for
a manufacturing tenant. The county recently won a $9 million grant from
the federal government to expand the runway at the local general
“The idea is to make it able to handle corporate jets,” Manikowski said.
The STC Center is four miles from Exit 44 along Cuomo’s Thruway corridor.
Center Chief Executive Paul Tolley, who came out of the Rochester
optics industry, found the Infotonics Center to be underperforming. Now,
thanks to the center’s nanotech focus and Tolley’s ability to bring in
tenants and woo defense contracts, the center has many more corporate
suitors than space to accommodate them.
“A critical mass of
nanotech infrastructure is being created,” Tolley said. “The governor
has led the effort. But it will be here long after he leaves office.”
Kaloyeros, the CEO of Albany’s nanotech college and, with Cuomo, the
leading champion of the technology in New York, said the governor’s idea
is to create a modern-day Erie Canal, following essentially the same
route westward toward Buffalo, substituting nanotech research,
development and manufacturing for the barges, mules and hardscrabble
workers of centuries past.
“The difference here is that
this is driven by the university and the public sector, not the
industry,” Kaloyeros said. “The state owns the college and creates the
research.” That’s new in innovation economics on this scale, he said.
not yet clear whether this surge in nanotech will spur job creation
where it is most needed in New York and nationally — among middle-skills
workers, those with high school and some college education.
Albany nanotech partnership claims it has created more than 13,000 jobs
already and expects more as the state jumps full-bore into the race for
the next generation of computer chips. If everything pans out, the
state expects to add more than 25,000 nanotech jobs statewide within
three years, with several thousand of those in the Rochester region.
out of the local network of four-year colleges and universities, most
of the training and education of nanotech workers and clean-room
operators central to advanced manufacturing are being done at the
community college level.
Finger Lakes Community College in
Ontario County has a training program specifically targeted at feeding
the STC Center. The classes are small so far, and if nanotech grows at
the pace anticipated, the industry may soon exhaust its local supply of
“Now is the time,” said FLCC physics
professor Sam Samanta, who is heading an academic program called
Instrumentation and Control Technologies geared specifically to
preparing people for advanced manufacturing. “The companies will go
elsewhere if they can’t find the workers they need.”
agrees. He’s a cheerleader for all things nanotech but he thinks
four-year colleges and universities have to do a better job preparing
students for these mid-level jobs.