A new vision for New York’s Capital Region
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is a company defined by vision. Its first blockbuster drug, Eylea, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011, improves the vision of people suffering from age-related macular degeneration. Demonstrating its long-term vision, the biopharmaceutical company in 1993 – 15 years before it had a FDA-approved medicine – acquired the upstate New York facility where its products are now manufactured. That facility is at the University at Albany’s Health Sciences Campus in East Greenbush, Rensselaer County, less than four miles southeast of the Capitol Building in Albany.
The company, headquartered in Tarrytown, Westchester County, has gone from employing 170 in East Greenbush before its first medicine was approved by the FDA in 2008 to more than 2,500 today. Statewide, Regeneron employs more than 6,500, making it New York’s largest biotech company. And it is envisioning an even larger presence in the upstate region. Last September, Regeneron announced plans for an $800 million expansion of its laboratory space, manufacturing capacity and warehouse facilities in Rensselaer County and the creation of 1,500 jobs throughout the greater Capital Region.
Life Science Initiative
Regeneron’s expansion – supported by $140 million in incentives – represents not only a milestone in manufacturers’ changing views of economic opportunity in upstate New York but also in the state’s $620 million Life Science Initiative. This initiative was approved in the fiscal 2018 budget to support the development of a world-class life sciences cluster and the commercialization of its R&D.
Several other major projects under this initiative have recently been announced for New York’s Capital Region, an eight-county region centered around Albany and renowned for its vast R&D infrastructure. They include a $48.6 million investment by Merck’s ILÚM Health Solutions to develop an Infectious Disease Digital Health and Precision Medicine Platform that will use big data to track the spread of infectious diseases and help local clinicians fight them. The project, a partnership with the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center, will result in ILÚM’s creation of 115 jobs in the Capital Region.
The state is also pursuing a $750 million centralization of Wadsworth’s five Capital Region laboratories, some of which are currently engaged with Regeneron in a $48 million initiative to develop improved diagnostics, prophylactics and therapeutics for diagnosing and treating tick-borne diseases such as Lyme Disease. A site near Albany Medical Center has been recommended for the Wadsworth consolidation project, which could help attract 1,200 life sciences jobs and generate up to $2.3 billion in economic activity.
Academic High-Technology Investments
Just as Regeneron’s acquisition of a manufacturing facility in East Greenbush in the early 1990s is boosting upstate’s life sciences, several other decades-old investments are likewise driving economic development in the region’s other tech clusters such as nanotechnology and video game development.
It was 30 years ago when Governor Mario Cuomo took New York’s first step toward turning Albany into a semiconductor hub. The advanced semiconductor program he established at the University of Albany over the years morphed into SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s College of Nanoscale and Science (CNSE) in Albany. After $24 billion in high-tech investments, SUNY Poly’s Albany campus has become a national R&D asset. In 2016 alone, it spent $312.2 million on engineering R&D, making it the nation’s fourth biggest academic spender in this field, according to data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.
The national significance of CNSE was solidified when the U.S. Department of Defense designated it as the lead in a $610 million public-private partnership known as American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics). SUNY Poly is the R&D leader and foundry for next generation photonic-integrated chips, which are many times more efficient than their electronic-based counterparts currently in widespread use. Those integrated photonic chips are being tested, assembled and packaged at an AIM Photonics’ facility in Rochester.
In 2006, these R&D assets at SUNY Poly as well as those at RPI, coupled with a $1.2 billion incentive package, enabled New York to beat Dresden, Germany in a bid for what has become North America’s most advanced chip fab, GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ Fab 8. Developed in what was formerly a swath of forest just outside Saratoga Springs, Fab 8 went into full production in 2015.
A recently released Georgetown University study on New York’s nano cluster found that New York’s investments in nanotechnology “have been substantial, particularly in regard to employment. Indeed, the benefits for the region in terms of jobs, investment, and growth have exceeded all forecasts.” This includes 3,500 jobs created in Malta by GLOBALFOUNDRIES, compared to the 1,200 pledged; 2,000 jobs preserved at the former IBM Fishkill plant; 3,400 jobs at CNSE, plus 20,000 to 60,000 additional indirect and induced jobs.
With this success, other states and nations are trying to adopt New York’s playbook in developing their own nano clusters. In the meantime, New York remains at the forefront and has prepared several shovel-ready sites across the upstate region to attract similar investments from the semiconductor industry. They include:
- Luther Forest Technology Campus (Malta, Saratoga County): 1,414 acres of greenfield space near Saratoga Springs.
- Marcy Nanocenter (Marcy, Oneida County): 428-acre site near Utica.
- White Pine Commerce Park (Clay, Onondaga County): 340-acre site near Syracuse.
- WNY STAMP (Alabama, Genesee County): 1,250-acre site between Rochester and Buffalo.
In 2017, manufacturing employment in the Capital Region reached a 16-year high at 34,322, according to New York State Department of Labor data. The job growth fueled by Regeneron and GLOBALFOUNDRIES has helped turn the Capital Region into what Forbes, for the past two years, has named the nation’s seventh most thriving manufacturing metro. The Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area was the only one in the Northeast to make this list.
Keeping talent flowing into the Capital Region’s manufacturing and R&D services industries is a vast educational network with 24 colleges and universities. In 2017, traditional institutions awarded 3,796 STEM degrees and two locally-based, distance-learning institutions awarded an addition 882 STEM degrees, according to a Center for Economic Growth (CEG) analysis of Integrated Postsecondary Education Database System (IPEDS) data.
To meet manufacturers’ more immediate demands for talent, the region has recently taken several steps, including the following:
- Center for Advanced Manufacturing Skills (CAMS): this $14.5 million, 37,000-square-foot building is under construction Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC).
- Manufacturing Technology Pathways Project: HVCC’s new short-term, stackable credential training program, or “boot camp.”
- Certified Production Technician (CPT) Program: A new eight- to 12-week-long certificate course at Schenectady County Community College.
- Manufacturing Intermediary Apprenticeship Program (MIAP): A CEG program, in partnership with the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY), to assist local manufacturers in training incumbent workers for high-skill trades.
Video Game Hubs
Upstate’s video game development cluster provides another example of decades-old investments changing the region’s economic landscape today. In the early 1990s, two brothers in high school, Karthik and Guha Bala, formed a video game studio that went on to become Vicarious Visions. That studio, based in the Albany suburbs of Menands, was acquired by Activision in 2005 and worked on what became the industry’s first billion-dollar title: “Guitar Hero II: Legends of Rock.”
Vicarious Visions has served as the anchor of the Capital Region’s video game development cluster, which is now concentrated across the Hudson River in neighboring Troy. A CEG survey of 14 Capital Region studios found they employed 352, including 285 software developers.
The cluster, however, has already grown substantially since that survey was conducted in February. Vicarious Visions, which already employs 200, is relocating its headquarters to a $7.3 million studio in the Albany suburb of Colonie. Supported by $2 million in tax credits under the Excelsior Jobs Program, Vicarious Visions will create 115 jobs. Other major local studios include WB Games NY and PUBG Games. Another studio, focused on experimental gaming development, is Velan Studios, founded by the Bala brothers, formerly of Vicarious Visions. Supported by a $200,000 Empire State Development capital grant, this Troy video game studio will invest $630,000 to fit out a space in Troy add 49 jobs to its current payroll of 40.
Supporting this cluster’s job growth are game and interactive media design programs at RPI and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). In 2018, Animation Career Review named RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media as the nation’s second best game design school and RPI’s Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS) ranked ninth.
In March 2019, Albany will host what will be the Northeast’s largest collegiate eSports event, which will feature colleges from the Eastern College Athletic Association’s (ECAC) and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). It is just another example of how upstate is playing hard – and playing to win.
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