The Mohawk Valley region’s economic landscape has undergone a dramatic change that has turned pessimism and cynicism into confidence and progress, with more than $2 billion in public and private investment already committed to revitalizing the area.
Several new development initiatives recently announced or started within the last year are adding to the region’s continued economic vitality, which reaffirms the region’s sustained economic momentum.
The Mohawk Valley has moved forward through gut-wrenching economic challenges. Now, the region’s community and overarching economic revitalization continues.
Site Development: Marcy Nanocenter
In 2001, Mohawk Valley EDGE reported on the zoning, and partnerships between local, state, and federal agencies to pre-permit the site and attract the chip fab industry, stating that the industry’s potential to strengthen the area “cannot be understated.” Promises of more than $2 billion of private investment, jobs, and spin-off benefits for future growth and stabilization of property values were set forth. After two decades plus of commitment, these efforts have transformed the Mohawk Valley.
In April 2022, Wolfspeed commenced operations of its state-of-the-art 200 mm SiC Mohawk Valley fab. Now, they are shipping SiC semiconductor products to customers. In 2022, Wolfspeed announced agreements with Lucid Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, and Mercedes-Benz — fueling electric vehicles from race-car drivers to commuters, alike. This work continues. As the industry emerges and expands, Wolfspeed plans to increase its investment at its Mohawk Valley Fab with additional tooling that would maximize production output, enabling the company to meet growing customer demand for 200 mm SiC semiconductors technology. The company anticipates that its total investment in the Mohawk Valley Fab will increase from $1 billion to about $2 billion as it increases production output from Marcy.
This past February, Park Grove Realty secured site plan and SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) approvals from the Town of Marcy Planning Board for the Tech Barn project. Park Grove intends to build 182 market-rate apartments and 50 townhomes, planning for 40,000 square feet of commercial space and lifestyle amenities on a 33-acre site along the Marcy SUNY Parkway. This year, the New York Upstate Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized Mohawk Valley EDGE and Environmental Design and Research (EDR) with the 2022 Best Practice Award for master planning of Tech Barn. This award, and the overall planning process, highlight how innovative and state-of-the-art planning methods and practices help to create communities of lasting value.
At SUNY Poly, Semikron Danfoss has more than 200 employees at its power module factory and produces products for the automotive industry and other customers. The company views its SUNY Poly production facility as a “key growth center” for its North American operations and is looking at additional expansion opportunities, reinforcing the workforce pipeline and future opportunities for the region.
Catalysts for Investment: Downtown Utica
In Utica, Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) is nearing completion of the state-of-the-art Wynn Hospital that is expected to open this October. The new downtown hospital enhances health-care delivery services in the Mohawk Valley and has been a major catalyst in the revitalization of downtown Utica.
This 10-story, 700,000-square-foot facility has changed downtown Utica’s skyline, with more changes to come. Construction continues at the 1,350-vehicle downtown parking garage next to Wynn Hospital that is slated to open by the middle of the first quarter of 2024. Construction on the 94,000-square-foot physician medical office complex is progressing. It’s a site that will include an ambulatory surgery center, as well as other medical services critical to Wynn Hospital and the region’s health-care services.
At a total cost of $64 million, the Nexus Center opened last December. Nexus has had an immediate economic impact in drawing major tournaments and sporting events that are proving to be a major tourism and entertainment draw for the region that is generating increased sales tax and bed-tax revenue for Oneida County. Earlier this year, Nexus was rebranded as the Utica University Nexus Center. In 2024, The facility will host the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship and the World Lacrosse Box Championships.
In the last decade, there has been over $1 billion of public and private investment within a mile radius of Hotel Street, a block of historic buildings that will soon undergo multiple changes, bringing new market-rate apartments and several ground-floor commercial units to the table.
Growing Developments: Shovel-Ready Sites
Advancement continues in key regionally significant industries, in step with ongoing state-based initiatives.
Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled the FAST NY Program to increase the inventory of shovel-ready sites that could be marketed to strategic industries of statewide importance, “supercharging” New York state’s economy. Mohawk Valley EDGE is actively seeking to utilize FAST NY funding to advance two key development sites in Oneida County.
In coordination with Oneida County Airport and Economic Development staff, C&S Companies is finalizing the remaining scope and permitting items for 280 acres at the Griffiss International Airport’s “Triangle Parcel.” In addition to potential aeronautical use, the Griffiss Triangle site is well suited to capture supply chain growth resulting from Micron’s mega memory semiconductor project in Clay.
Additionally, EDGE has applied to Empire State Development to advance the shovel-ready status of the remaining acreage at the Marcy Nanocenter Campus. EDGE will work with key partners to relocate electrical infrastructure, develop a supply chain facility that will support the region’s high-tech manufacturing growth, and complete advanced site work at Parcel #2, capable of supporting an additional 1 million square feet of cleanroom space and additional support facilities.
These FAST NY funds will be sought to fund the critical site and infrastructure improvements to bring each site to the market at new heights, furthering economic potential.
Restoring Vibrant Communities
In 2022, Mohawk Valley EDGE secured two EPA grants: one for brownfield assessments and $1 million for a Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund. These EPA grants are enhancing the region’s ability to promote the repurposing of key vacant and underutilized buildings, including properties that have uncertain environmental issues requiring further study and potential environmental remediation. In the village of Oriskany, the former Waterbury Felt Mill site is set amidst an ongoing transition with EDGE and other community partners.
The Mohawk Valley region continues to successfully build vibrant urban centers by pumping life into new buildings. Redevelopment of the Commercial Travelers Building — located at 70 Genesee St., with 32 market-rate apartments, and commercial space — and the former Utica Steam Cotton Building — located at 600 State State St., with 64 market-rate apartments and commercial amenities, including Brooklyn Pickle — are two excellent examples in downtown Utica. Both projects are adding to the allure of downtown Utica as a 24/7 neighborhood.
This community-based positive impact is being noticed. The Mohawk Valley has gained major traction in securing project funding and attracting developer commitments for several key vacant and underutilized properties. Key sites poised for redevelopment include the former Duofold building in the village of Ilion; the Mayro Building at the corner of Genesee Street and Bank Place in Utica; and, a new exterior building façade, roof and, mechanical improvements for the second and third floors of 131 Boston Place in Utica. Also in the works are the repurposing of vacant buildings on Hotel Street in the Lower Bagg’s Square Historic District; demolition of the former Columbus School site in the City of Rome; and selected demolition and repurposing of the former Waterbury Felt Mill site in the village of Oriskany.
Projects & Impacts
In 2022, Mohawk Valley EDGE helped attract nearly $1.3 million in grants and equipment financing for small businesses. The Oneida County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA) approved $123.8 million in tax benefits for eligible projects, and over the past five years, it has induced and closed on projects with around $1.6 billion in public and private investment.
Annually, Griffiss Business and Technology Park generates about $4.3 million in PILOT payments and property taxes that are distributed pro-rata to the City of Rome, Oneida County, and Rome City School District.
Griffiss Business and Technology Park has emerged as a major catalyst in the economic resurgence of the region’s economy, driven by employers related to the region’s strengths in semiconductors, cybersecurity, and uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS).
The UAS test site continues to grow. Last October, FAA designated and certified the 50-mile (Beyond Visual Line of Site (BVLOS) drone corridor from Griffiss to Syracuse. Last summer, SkyDome, the nation’s largest indoor UAS testing center was dedicated and firmly established New York’s leadership position in the growth and integration of UAS technologies into the nation’s commercial air space. At Air City Lofts, Bonacio Construction, Inc. has built an additional 100 units of market-rate apartments. Kris-Tech Wire has commenced construction of a 75,000-square-foot expansion to its Griffiss-based specialty wire operation.
The Mohawk Valley region has established an aggressive agenda to attract population additions, new investments, and attract job investments. EDGE’s priorities for 2023 are centered around strategic site development, repurposing key buildings and sites, and leveraging opportunities to attract additional semiconductor, UAS, and advanced manufacturing opportunities to continue the region’s upward economic trajectory.
Key challenges for the region are ensuring opportunities for traditionally underserved populations, strategic partnerships to increase training and workforce development pipelines — including greater emphasis on STEM education and reducing barriers that diminish labor-force participation.
The region’s portfolio of projects and opportunities, coupled with Micron’s mega semiconductor project in Central New York, is creating opportunities for the Mohawk Valley that have not been seen since industry build-up during WWII, or the original conception of the Erie Canal. These opportunities hold the promise of attracting the population and changing the underlying dynamics of the region over the next 10 to 20 years, furthering a future rooted in growth and success. We are looking forward to what comes next.
Steve DiMeo is president of Mohawk Valley EDGE, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to strengthening and growing the economy of the Mohawk Valley.