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High-tech push

Economic officials seek clean, good-paying companies

July 8, 2012
By ERIC RETZLAFF , The Leader Herald

JOHNSTOWN - Ideally, Fulton County would like to have more high-tech, low-polluting companies that pay good wages to lots of people.

In a county with 10-plus percent unemployment, that's not a bad idea.

That's why the county's Center for Regional Growth is pushing harder for those types of businesses.

Article Photos

(The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff) Economic development officials are hoping to attract more companies like Electro-Metrics in Johnstown, shown above.

High technology may be a term that conjures up images of wind turbines and solar panels, but to Michael Reese, chief executive officer of the center, the term broadly means running companies with more technical efficiency. "Some people have the false impression that [American] manufacturing is dead or gone offshore," he said.

What's really happening is more companies are using technologies to make better products more cheaply, sometimes with fewer, but better-paid, better-educated people. "It's the only way they can compete, or go out of business," he said.

Reese sees a Capital Region technological synergy that includes companies such as the computer chip-making GlobalFoundries in Malta and General Electric Co., the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering, and worker-training community colleges such as Fulton-Montgomery. "These have made the region a good place for newer high-tech manufacturers to locate," he said.

Reese cited soon-to-be-expanding Fage USA Dairy in the Johnstown Industrial Park as an example of "a very modern, very sophisticated facility" making Greek yogurt. While it doesn't emit the chemical wastes of the county's old tannery days, it does have whey as a byproduct. However, the Fulton-Montgomery County Wastewater Treatment Plant added a milk anaerobic digester that processes the waste and recycles it to make methane gas, generating electricity for the plant and landfill.

Reese gave other examples: Electro-Metrics Corp., which designs, produces and integrates antennas, sensors and systems for broadband radio-frequency technologies, and Benjamin Moore & Co. Inc., a paint manufacturer, both at the industrial park, and Epimed International Inc., which makes medical catheters at Crossroads Industrial Park in Gloversville.

Computerized distribution centers such as Walmart's in Johnstown and Target's in the town of Florida, employing hundreds, also fit the mold. Even retaining older Gloversville glove manufacturers such as Swany America Corp., which distributes gloves from the Far East, and Grandoe Corp., with global headquarters here, are a plus.

Reese said Fulton and Montgomery counties plan to merge their economic development websites to make them both more appealing.

He said the merging of the counties' websites, with links to the Capital Region's resources, is only one way the center is trying to sell the idea that this area has the skilled manpower and training, existing technology and support services to make it attractive to higher-tech businesses. Support services include accessible transportation routes and such facilities as a wastewater treatment plant built to high capacity to accommodate the old tanning industry. The plant helped make Johnstown viable for Fage, he said.

The county also targets the suppliers of Capital Region high-tech businesses to encourage the suppliers to put facilities here.

Site selectors regularly come through the region - some 50 representing different business over the past year, and this gives Fulton County a chance to personally pitch the county's assets.

Collaborating with the state and the Center for Economic Growth offers the county a chance to have a larger outreach than it would on its own. For example, Reese said, the CEG is attending the high-tech Semicon West conference this month in San Francisco to pitch the Capital Region.

Reese credits economic development for private-sector jobs staying at about 14,100 in Fulton County since 1992. "If nothing had been done over the past 20 years, you'd see that employment number much lower," he said.



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