The evidence is compelling: The Capital Region is poised to take off as a bona fide tech industry hub.
The region has scored impressive gains in technology-related jobs, and the latest employment data from the New York State Department of Labor would suggest the region could become another Silicon Valley, albeit on a smaller scale. The core high-tech industries now provide 41,800 jobs in the region; since 2008, jobs in high-tech fields rose by 6 percent, according to the Labor Department. Careers in these areas are growing 2.5 times faster than traditional labor categories in New York.
But despite the huge impact of developments like GlobalFoundaries’ computer chip manufacturing plant in Malta and the move to Albany of the international chip-producing consortium Sematech, the Capital Region has yet to emerge as a true entrepreneurial hotbed. This reality check was documented in a story Sunday by Times Union Business Editor Eric Anderson. In some cases, even when startups have successfully launched here, bigger nearby markets — like New York City or Boston — pull them away as they reach maturity. Those larger environments are much more able to support the new and innovative businesses, and it’s easier there for entrepreneurs to attract vital venture capital.
If the Capital Region is to become a true tech hub, we must grow our own tech ecosystem so that existing businesses see beyond short-term competition by mentoring and collaborating with those launching the startups.
Silicon Valley’s explosive growth has been credited to Stanford University’s five decades of support and cultivation of the region’s tech sector. Stronger links must also be developed between our own universities and their young graduates, keeping more of them here to innovate and create new businesses.
We are encouraged by the University at Albany’s decision to launch a School of Engineering in 2015. Rather than competing, it should be tooled to complement the programs at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and Union College in Schenectady. The results will be a rich pool of talented graduates ready to join a thriving local technology economy.
We’re equally heartened by new efforts on the high school and community college level to respond to the growing tech sector. Last week, the Troy Riverfront Pathways in Technology Early College High School became the newest of these so-called P-TECH programs, which prepare students for the technology sector. Through partnerships with the local tech industry, the state-funded program grants associate degrees when students graduate from high school, ready to step into a host of high-skill and well-paid jobs.
It’s a worthwhile effort. Why should GlobalFoundaries have to recruit nationally to expand its current workforce of 2,000 to 3,000 by the end of the year? Those employees, and workers drawn by future projects, can and should come from this region — and a unified effort will help make it happen.
©2014 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)