The Mohawk Valley region underwent gut-wrenching economic changes in the mid-1990s with the realignment of Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome and major industrial plant downsizings and closures. Back then, the region’s future appeared to be rather bleak, and its psyche was badly shaken.
Fast forward to today, the region is not losing jobs or bleeding population. Instead of disinvestment, the Mohawk Valley is seeing unprecedented levels of new investment, with over $2 billion in public and private investment that is driving the region’s community and economic revitalization. The region’s economic landscape is undergoing dramatic changes that has turned pessimism and cynicism into confidence and progress. Instead of looking back, the area is forging forward by pursuing economic strategies that support growth of STEM-intensive industries that offer better opportunities for economic growth. The progress made to date marks just the beginning of the region’s economic transformation.
Prime examples of the Mohawk Valley’s economic transformation include the following development initiatives.
“The former Griffiss Air Force Base, once a key Cold War asset, has proven to be a key asset that is rebuilding the region’s economy, with nearly 6,000 jobs.”
1. Downtown Utica’s Economic Revitalization
Downtown Utica is undergoing a major economic resurgence, which symbolizes the region’s economic upswing. Two projects in particular are major contributors to downtowns revitalization.
Construction of the Mohawk Valley Health System’s (MVHS) Wynn Hospital is a major addition to downtown’s skyline and is the catalyst for downtown’s economic revitalization. Oneida County has awarded bids on construction of a 1,350-car parking garage for the hospital and public parking for downtown needs.
A private physician’s group (Central Utica Building) will build an 80,000 to 90,000-square-foot medical-office building across from the hospital to deliver health-care services essential for Wynn Hospital. This $42 million investment will generate more property taxes than what was lost with the assemblage of the downtown site for the hospital.
Construction of the Nexus Center has resumed and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. This nearly 170,000-square-foot facility features state-of-the-art amenities, which includes three multi-purpose indoor fields that can be used for ice-hockey, indoor soccer, lacrosse, and turf surfaces for other purposes. Nexus makes Utica a destination for sports tournaments and anchors the region’s leisure and hospitality industry and infuses sales-tax receipts that benefits Oneida County and local government.
The Wynn Hospital and Nexus are catalytic investments that have sparked private-developer investment in downtown Utica and is helping to transform the downtown area as a mixed-use residential-commercial neighborhood, cultural, and event center.
Other projects currently under development include the redevelopment of the Utica Steam Cotton Building at 600 State St. This 19th-century building is being transformed into 64 units of loft-style apartments and ground-floor commercial uses, which includes the announcement that Brooklyn Pickle will open a deli. The former Commercial Traveler’s building at 70 Genesee St. is being redeveloped to support 32 loft-style apartments and commercial space. Barton & Loguidice, D.P.C. — an engineering, planning, environmental, and landscape-architecture firm based near Syracuse — has announced plans to locate offices within the Commercial Travelers building. The 310 Main Street building – formerly home to the Children’s Museum at historic Bagg’s Square — is being transformed into ground-floor commercial space and market-rate apartments. The Tailor and the Cook plans to relocate its farm-to-table restaurant as part of its need to expand. These investments build on the success of the Landmarc, The Doyle and Rathbun Lofts and validate developer confidence in the region’s economic future.
2. Building a New Mohawk Valley Economy
In April, Wolfspeed celebrated the opening of its state-of-the-art 200 mm silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductor facility at Marcy Nanocenter, which is the first, largest, and only 200 mm SiC semiconductor plant in the world. About 300 employees of the 600 forecast have been hired. Wolfspeed is completing the qualification of its Mohawk Valley Fab. The company expects to begin ramping production for customers later this year. The pace of the global transition from the internal-combustion engine to electric vehicles is accelerating plans the build out of the balance of Wolfspeed’s Mohawk Valley Fab based on growing demand and customer commitments for Wolfspeed’s SiC devices.
Danfoss Silicon Power is adding power module lines at Quad C for its growing automotive business. The company is increasing employment from its current 75 employees and expects to build out the balance of the Quad C cleanroom.
A critical part of the region’s strategy is to build a regional semiconductor and advanced-electronics ecosystem. As a result, Mohawk Valley EDGE intends to build, own, and lease a 60,000-square- foot flex-space facility that would support supply chain businesses that co-locate to support Wolfspeed, Danfoss Silicon Power, and other semiconductor firms that expand on the balance of the Marcy site. Financing is being secured on this facility and EDGE hopes to bid the project later this fall.
To help support talent-attraction efforts with Wolfspeed and Danfoss Silicon Power’s expansions, EDGE has created a master plan for a 33-acre site that it owns along the Parkway between River Road and Technology Drive as a mixed-use residential and commercial development, known as “Tech Barn.” EDGE advertised for developer interest, and selected Park Grove Realty, a Rochester–based developer to implement the Tech Barn master plan.
Park Grove plans to construct 232 units of market-rate apartments (182) and town homes (50), with 42,000 square feet of commercial space and lifestyle amenities that meet the demand for housing from a growing technology workforce. The project also creates an inviting vista that complements SUNY Polytechnic Institute and is well situated to take advantage of downtown Utica’s revitalization and proximity to Griffiss.
Wolfspeed and Danfoss are not singular investments at Marcy Nanocenter. Mohawk Valley EDGE is aggressively marketing the balance of the Marcy site to other semiconductor and advanced-electronics firms. Full build out of the balance of the Marcy site can support another 1 million square feet of cleanroom space that would support an additional 2,000 direct and indirect jobs. Semiconductor companies have taken notice of Wolfspeed’s development at Marcy Nanocenter and of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s push for federal funding under the CHIPS for America Act, working its way through a House-Senate Conference Committee, that would help the industry to expand within the United States and reverse the trend of off-shoring of the industry. Gov. Kathy Hochul secured approval of the state Green CHIPS Act that strengthens New York’s competitive position to attract new semiconductor growth.
3. Continued Growth of Griffiss as a Regional Employment Center
The former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, once a key Cold War asset, has proven to be a key asset that is rebuilding the Mohawk Valley regional economy, with nearly 6,000 jobs.
The Griffiss Business & Technology Park continues to attract new investment. In 2021, there was $91 million in new investment and for the period of 1995-2021 total investment at Griffiss exceeds $920 million. All that has transformed this former Cold War installation into a vibrant, growing, regional employment center.
Last year, Orgill opened its northeast regional distribution center, with 225 jobs. Bonacio Construction cut the ribbon on Phase 1 of Air City Lofts and has since completed the project’s Phase 2 development. Additionally, construction on Phase 3 is currently underway. Air City Lofts will have 256 market-rate apartments and 50,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space with completion of Phase 3. Air City Lofts is pivotal to helping with talent-attraction efforts as the region looks to attract a technology workforce.
Last year, Northpoint Defense, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the Innovare Advancement Center completed expansion projects at Griffiss Business & Technology Park that are bolstering the park’s continued development as a growing regional technology hub, focused on C4I, cybersecurity, and quantum computing.
Oneida County and the Griffiss unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test site have cut the ribbon on Skydome — a one-of-a-kind, year-round indoor small UAS research facility that will support the safe experimentation of drone technology and techniques and adds a key piece of capability at the Griffiss UAS test site for military and commercial use. This is in addition to the thousands of test-site flight operations using small and large UAS platforms. Additional capabilities that have been added at the test site include:
• Installation of UAS tracking radars and development of the UAS Operations Center, and
• Development of a fully instrumented Rome-to-Syracuse unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) demonstration corridor
To support business-attraction efforts, Mohawk Valley EDGE is working with Oneida County on developing the 258-acre area site (former “Triangle parcel”) that is located within the Griffiss International Airport boundary. Development of this prime site will support business-attraction efforts for UAS testing, advanced manufacturing, R&D, as well as other aeronautical and non-aeronautical uses. This is the largest remaining development tract at Griffiss and is well-positioned to support the region’s business-attraction efforts.
Oneida County has kicked off the National Environmental Policy Act review process and State Environmental Quality Review Act process to complete the environmental and permitting requirements based on the planned development as an airport business park. The Triangle site is potentially eligible for funding through the FAST NY Program that is part of this year’s New York State budget and would help create shovel-ready development sites to enhance New York’s competitive position to attract new development.
4. Building Vibrant Communities
Reclaiming older vacant, underutilized sites with prior environmental history is a critical part of EDGE’s strategy to build vibrant communities.
Cold Point’s new 50,000-square-foot production facility on a portion of the former Rome Cable site illustrates the economic benefits of brownfield development. The former Building 4 complex has been demolished and the site has been remediated, which removes a blighted building and offers opportunities for reuse of the site.
EDGE has secured two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants to assist efforts to redevelop underutilized properties with environmental history to be repurposed.
First, EDGE secured a $300,000 Brownfield Assessment grant through EPA, which is targeted to several sites within Oneida County that will go through brownfield-site assessments. Efforts are currently underway on sites in Utica, Rome, and Oriskany, with other sites expected to be added during the course of the year.
This year, EDGE secured a $1 million EPA Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund that would provide grants and loans for implementation activities on high-profile brownfield sites in Oneida and Herkimer Counties. EPA funds will help underwrite environmental-remediation efforts that can leverage other funding and tax credits to support reuse of these sites.
5. Other Strategic Site-Development Initiatives
Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency (HCIDA) has successfully developed the 188-acre Schuyler Business Park expansion that has attracted local business expansions by Fountainhead Group and Pepsi. HCIDA is also securing prospective business interest for the remaining Schuyler Business Park parcels.
The former Chaminade Site in Marcy is being positioned for development. This site can support nearly 800,000 square feet in new buildings. EDGE is working with National Grid and the property owners on completing pre-permitting activities and developing schematic engineering-design documents for access road and infrastructure improvements, and this site may also be positioned for participation in the upcoming FAST NY Program.
6. Small Business Expansion and Recovery Assistance
Working with Oneida County, EDGE has administered the federal CARES Act Business Assistance Program and Microenterprise Grant Programs, which provided $1 million in small-business assistance. These programs have helped infuse small-business development and business-recovery efforts for businesses impacted during COVID. To date, EDGE has facilitated 14 grants to eligible businesses totaling $730,000 under both programs.
In conclusion, the strategies and efforts that have coalesced between public and private-sector stakeholder interests have helped reverse decades of disinvestment and community despair in the Mohawk Valley. The region’s changes in its physical landscape are being equaled with the generational changes that are taking place that bode well for the area’s continued growth and development.
Steve DiMeo is president of Mohawk Valley EDGE, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to strengthening and growing the economy of the Mohawk Valley.