For the third time in 15 months, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday traveled to Buffalo Niagara to unveil a multimillion-dollar state investment in the region, money that is meant to spawn hundreds of new private-sector jobs.
It’s an attempt to revive a local economy that for years has lagged behind that of the rest of the state.
The latest initiative features an information technology hub anchored by IBM, which is bringing 500 jobs to downtown Buffalo, where the state will spend $55 million on construction and computer hardware.
“I’m so excited about this. It’s the right place to be. The right project. The right direction. IBM is the right partner to have,” Cuomo said during a stop in Amherst.
New York’s strategy here is modeled on its nanotechnology initiative in the Capital District, where billions in state aid transformed that region’s economy. Cuomo seeks to do the same for Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and other upstate communities.
IBM already is a partner in Albany’s nanotechnology facility, and the company has a long-standing presence in the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier.
The global computer and technology services giant could have built its new innovation center anywhere but was drawn to Buffalo by the opportunity to strengthen its participation in the state’s high-tech initiatives and by the untapped local workforce.
“I think there’s talent here that, unfortunately, today many of those individuals leave because the opportunity is not here. We have a great opportunity to leverage and hopefully utilize that talent in Western New York,” Michael J. Cadigan, general manager and head of IBM’s Microelectronics, Systems and Technology Group, told reporters before the governor’s address.
The state investment in the new information technology hub, like the previously announced investments in drug discovery and clean energy research and development, follows the public-private partnership model used in Albany:
The state pays for the buildings, laboratory equipment and computer systems, and recruits companies to staff and operate the facilities.
Since the early 1990s, the state has spent $1.6 billion on SUNY Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, spurring more than $19 billion in investment from makers of computer chips and related companies eager to work at or near the sprawling research center.
“Great success, don’t get me wrong. But it didn’t just happen. State government made it happen over a period of years, with billions,” Cuomo said during a budget address to 390 people in the Classics V banquet hall in on Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Cuomo said he welcomed Albany’s economic boom but wondered upon taking office in 2011 what state government could do to encourage a similar renaissance in the rest of upstate.
This led to his creation of the regional economic-development councils to generate geographically targeted business plans, and his Buffalo Billion pledge for Western New York.
“I had nanotech in my head,” Cuomo said. “It’s going to take that kind of investment.”
While the Albany initiative focused on nanotechnology, the state has invested its money in Buffalo in at least three distinct sectors of the economy.
Albany Molecular Research and PerkinElmer are the lead tenants in a drug-development hub now under construction on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where the $50 million in state investment is attracting $200 million in private-sector investment and 250 jobs to start.
At RiverBend, a former brownfield site in South Buffalo, two California clean-energy startups, Soraa and Silevo, have promised to invest $750 million each and create 850 total jobs at a $225 million complex constructed with state funds.
“Our region’s economy is finally moving out of the past and entering into a new and bright future,” Colleen C. DiPirro, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, said at Monday’s event.
Similarly, the state is spending $55 million to construct and outfit an IT hub for IBM and future partner companies. The financing is flowing through the nanotech college, which will play a lead role in the facility.
IBM is not making a capital investment in the project, Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said.
“I think we have to look at the investment as being the jobs that are created. It’s very similar to what we talk about on the ECIDA. If we’re going to give a tax break, we want to see the investment from the company be the jobs that are created,” Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz told reporters Monday, referring to the county’s Industrial Development Agency.
With IBM and state officials seeking to open the facility in 2015, rehabbing an existing building makes more sense than building from scratch.
The partners already are eyeing several downtown locations, in search of a building that could easily be expanded for future growth, Alain E. Kaloyeros, senior vice president and CEO of the nanotech center, said in an email.
Cadigan said the 100,000-square-foot IBM facility will be used for cutting-edge software development, not simply as a data center, and the company is confident the region can supply the needed engineers, computer scientists and other IT specialists.
“The key for the Buffalo center will be innovation,” Cadigan said. “That requires deep research, deep science and very, very skilled scientists to take the hardware platform and the data platform and translate it into very useful tools.”
UB issues more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate degrees annually in engineering, computer science and related fields, an ample pool of well-qualified potential workers for IBM, said UB President Satish K. Tripathi.
The IBM center won’t be an island. It is connected to another project fueled by state funding, a genomic medicine network announced earlier this year that links biomedical researchers at UB, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and, in Manhattan with UB’s supercomputer and private-sector companies.
And the IBM hub also ties into the state’s drug-discovery and clean-energy centers. For example, the software developed there could be tested at the other two facilities, Kaloyeros said.
News Business Reporter Jonathan D. Epstein contributed to this report.
©2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)