This year stands in stark contrast to 2020 and indicates not only our region’s recovery from COVID, but also reinforces our renewed optimism about the Mohawk Valley’s community and economic outlook.
Last July, we had not yet seen the worst of the pandemic. Today, nearly two-thirds of adults in New York state have been fully vaccinated (as of early July). Rates of infection have substantially declined, hospitalizations are dramatically lower, and most importantly, there are far fewer deaths attributed to COVID.
Last year, nearly every community was forced to enter some form of “lock down” mode. Today, nearly all restrictions have been lifted and communities are returning to near-normal conditions. Restaurants are full, people are traveling, consumer demand is strong, businesses are seeing increased activity, construction is at an all-time-high, and businesses that were working remotely are beginning to bring workers back into the office.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 has provided state and local governments with $350 billion in federal stimulus dollars to combat the financial impacts of the pandemic on state and local-government budgets. Oneida and Herkimer counties, the cities of Utica and Rome, and other local governments in both counties will receive more than $168 million for community and economic-recovery measures to support strategic investments that allow communities to invest in community and economic-redevelopment activities that will create jobs and generate taxes.
Hopefully before the end of summer, Congress will vote to implement an infrastructure plan to rebuild the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, address barriers to employment that have reduced labor-force participation rates, and invest funds to advance strategic technology sectors.
Through the leadership of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.), the U.S. Senate — with strong bipartisan support — has taken an important first step with passage of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that targets $52 billion to expand the U.S. share of semiconductor manufacturing. The bill also provides nearly $200 billion to strengthen the nation’s innovation economy so that the U.S. can remain globally competitive in critical industry sectors such as artificial intelligence, 5G-broadband, machine learning, quantum computing, and unmanned-aircraft systems (UAS) technologies. Federal investment in semiconductors and the innovation economy are closely aligned with the economic-development strategy here in the Mohawk Valley region with Marcy Nanocenter, Cree/Wolfspeed, Danfoss Silicon Power, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and the Innovare Advancement Center.
There is considerable interest by the semiconductor industry in looking at U.S.–based sites for semiconductor-plant expansions and supply chain growth. The Marcy Nanocenter site is programmed to support another 1 million square feet of cleanroom space in addition to a potential second fab by Cree/Wolfspeed.
Despite the pandemic, the Mohawk Valley’s economy has never looked brighter. The $2 billion investment forecast at the end of 2019 is happening. Businesses are looking to invest. The demand for workers is strong. The real-estate market is a sellers’ market and the region is attracting interest from developers who see the region as a place with a strong economic momentum.
Key development projects that are underway include:
1. Cree/Wolfspeed’s state-of-the-art 200 mm Silicon Carbide (SiC) semiconductor construction: Construction of Cree’s Mohawk Valley Fab, which represents a $1 billion investment, remains on track. Once complete, the facility will serve as the world’s largest silicon-carbide fabrication facility. The company is slated to begin production in the 200-millimeter fab in early 2022 and has committed to creating more than 600 new jobs within eight years.
2. Flex-space supply chain development: Mohawk Valley EDGE is looking at establishing a flex-space campus on a 17-acre site at Marcy Nanocenter that would support supply-chain needs for Cree /Wolfspeed, Danfoss, and other potential end users attracted on the balance of the Marcy site. The proposed flex-space site can accommodate 150,000 square feet for semiconductor and advanced-electronics supply-chain companies. EDGE is looking to kick-off the project with a 50,000-square-foot flex-space shell that would be marketed to firms looking to co-locate next to Cree/Wolfspeed and Danfoss.
3. Continued growth of Griffiss Business and Technology Park: With nearly 6,000 jobs and more than $830 million in total public and private investment, Griffiss continues to be a regional economic-development asset that is driving the region’s economic resurgence. Projects underway or nearing completion include the following.
• Orgill’s Northeast Distribution Center project, which opened six months earlier than originally projected. This 780,000-square-foot facility will serve more than 6,000 Northeast hardware retailers. The company will create 225 full-time employees.
• Phase 1 of Air City Lofts is built and substantially leased. Phase 2 is currently under construction. When completed, Griffiss will have 156 loft-style apartments and nearly 40,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. This $40 million venture is creating a live-work-play neighborhood and the creation of lifestyle amenities is an inducement that helps Griffiss and other regional employers attract talent. The project’s developer is looking at plans for Phase 3 development beginning later this year.
• Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), Siege Technologies, and Northpoint Defense are expanding their technology offices here at Griffiss. BAH is located on the first floor of the new NYSTEC building. Siege and Northpoint are leasing the 40,000-square-foot multi-story office building developed by Bonacio Construction, Inc.
• Innovare Advancement Center is a partnership between Oneida County, AFRL, Griffiss Institute, and SUNY. This 38,000-square-foot multi-level facility includes labs for quantum computing and neuromorphic computing, office, conference, and training space to support technology initiatives focused on quantum computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning that are growing sectors of AFRL’s research portfolio.
• Co-located next to Innovare is Skydome, which converts one of two hangar bays into an indoor drone-testing facility for military and commercial UAS platforms. Skydome positions the Griffiss UAS Test Site for further growth in the integration of UAS platforms into the commercial airspace.
• Since its creation, the Griffiss Park Landowner’s Association has invested funds for parkwide improvements and development amenities including the Griffiss International Sculpture Park and Pedestrian Trail System, Wayfinding improvements. Bomber Disc Golf Course opened in June as part of the parkwide amenities being developed. These amenities contribute the integration of Griffiss within the City of Rome, enhance the park’s vibrancy, and support talent-attraction efforts.
4. Downtown development initiatives: The region is fortunate that both Utica and Rome have been selected as recipients of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). Both cities are receiving $10 million each to infuse into their respective downtown areas. In Rome, Copper City Lofts will begin construction of 64 apartments on an in-fill downtown site along West Dominick Street. Other key projects include renovation of the Rome Capitol Theater and creation of a fund to spark small-business investment. In downtown Utica, proposed mixed-use development projects include adaptive reuse of the former Utica Steam Cotton Mill building, Commercial Travelers Building for ground-floor commercial space, and upper-floor apartments. This is in addition to the redevelopment of the Doyle (former Doyle Hardware Building), the Rathbun (former ConMed Building next to the thINCUbator on Broad Street), and the Landmarc. Downtown Utica’s renaissance is anchored with the construction of the Wynn Hospital of the Mohawk Valley Health System and the continued investment in the Adirondack Bank Center and proposed Nexus Center, which add to downtown’s luster for nighttime activity.
5. Residential-development initiatives: The surge of economic activity is putting more focus on attracting developer interest in building more housing to meet the increased demand generated from a strong housing market and to accommodate the influx of people into the region. Communities are working with developers on permitting for new residential development.
In Rome, the city invested in a master plan for a 250-lot subdivision on the former Woodhaven and Wright Park Manor sites. This 73-acre site is planned for single family and townhome units with some of the frontage land across from the Rome MVCC campus reserved for a new YMCA complex and apartments.
The Marcy SUNY Parkway corridor is the gateway leading to the SUNY Polytechnic Institute campus and Marcy Nanocenter site. EDGE is looking to secure developer interest for construction of townhomes and a mixed-use initiative known as Tech Barn, situated on a 25-acre development parcel. Tech Barn offers apartments, town homes, and neighborhood commercial-development amenities that leverages the benefits of being adjacent to the college and the Marcy Nanocenter site. EDGE is working through permitting reviews with the town and marketing the master plan to prospective developers.
The depth of economic-reinvestment activities is a testimonial to the region’s resiliency and our deep-rooted faith that its best days are not behind but are in front of us. The Mohawk Valley is on an upward trajectory that is building a strong economic foundation after years of economic and community disinvestment.
Steve DiMeo is president of Mohawk Valley EDGE, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to strengthening and growing the economy of the Mohawk Valley. This article is drawn from a guest column he wrote for the June 29 email newsletter of the Genesis Group, a civic organization that says it unites business and community leaders working to advance regional economic, social, and cultural interests, and to foster unity and cooperation in the Mohawk Valley region.