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The field that promises jobs

Alabama, N.Y. -- Why invest $33 million in a relatively empty field in the rural Town of Alabama?

Why do some believe that field could one day attract tens of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars in private business investment?

How could that field one day compete with only a handful of sites in North America when it comes to attracting the next big nanotechnology project?

They are questions many would ask if they saw the more than 1,200-acre site in Genesee County. The New York State budget includes $33 million to fully fund the first phase of infrastructure development at the site. The money will be sent to buy up adjacent parcels of land, build roads and install necessary infrastructure to make the site shovel ready for potential investors.

"We have real projects in the pipeline, so much so that I have a company coming next week to see the site, said Mark Peterson of Greater Rochester Enterprise. "It's one thing for them to come out and be interested and hear our pitch. It is another to be able to deliver on their time schedule in their market conditions and that's what this money is going to help us to do."

The site is called STAMP for Science Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park. It represents Western New York's first nanotechnology park project, in an industry that has thrived in the Albany area. Its location, situated between Rochester and Buffalo, is crucial to its potential success.

"We have a huge workforce, we have a talented pool, we have 57 colleges in this region we can draw upon between the two regions, and that's going to be huge," explained Peterson. "These jobs are high-paying jobs when they're created. They'll average over $100,000 a year, and if you've got a $100,000-a-year job you're willing to commute 30 minutes for that job, and that means Rochester and Buffalo both will benefit."

The jobs wont exclusively be for college graduates with costly engineering degrees.

"Obviously there will be a lot of engineers and PhDs involved in this, but a greater number of the (job) population will be plumbers, pipe fitters, laborers that have to build these facilities and continue to maintain them," said Peterson. "It really is a replacement for sort of the old Kodak kind of jobs. These will be the kind of jobs there will need to be some technical training, but you don't necessarily have to have a four-year college degree for some of the great jobs that will be produced in the nanotechnology field."

The location also offers the site many marketable features for the industry. That includes an abundance of easily accessible fresh water, cheap hydroelectric power and a combined workforce in the region of more than 1.3 million. The cooler climate on stable ground, unlike West Coast or Asian facilities on the Pacific Rim and susceptible to Earthquakes, also offers prospective companies a sense of security in their investment.

The best-case scenario for this project includes estimates of more than 10,000 jobs that create another 50,000 spin-off jobs in service industries to support the workforce. Private investment from nanotech firms could reach $30-50 billion in the next two decades. Commitments to the site could happen as soon as later this year.

"Best-case scenario is in the next six months, I think we close our first deal. It will not be the big billion-dollar deal, but it will probably be a $100 million-plus deal to put a footprint on (the site) and have a real project tied to this project," Peterson said. "Over 10 or 15 years I think we get a large chip manufacturer to build a plant in this particular site, create thousands of high-paying jobs and really become a game changer for this particular region economically."

But what if that doesn't happen?

"The worst-case scenario is it doesn't produce as much as we think, so instead of getting 10,000 new jobs we only get five," replied Peterson. "That is really the worst-case scenario, and quite frankly if I had a few more worst-case scenarios like that, I'm willing to live with those."

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Washington Times