Officials upbeat on future of Nanocenter

Published Dec 2, 2017 at 4:10pm

MARCY — It has been a year since the first Marcy Nanocenter tenant pulled out, but an upbeat assessment of efforts to line up another computer chip plant was given to Oneida County legislators Thursday evening.

“I am pretty excited about all the inquiries and contacts we’ve had this year,” Mohawk Valley EDGE President Steven J. DiMeo told about 13 lawmakers during a quarterly briefing on EDGE’s varied activities for the Board of Legislators.

His optimistic outlook is shared by other officials.

EDGE and Empire State Development are overseeing the bid to land a replacement company for ams AG, which a year ago terminated its plans to operate a much-anticipated computer chip factory next to the SUNY Polytechnic Institute campus. It pulled out over concerns that the aggressive timetable for designing, constructing and outfitting the facility that Austrian computer-chip-sensor manufacturer ams AG was going to lease from the state was falling behind schedule and couldn’t be met.

Much of the blame was placed on the former Albany-based management at SUNY Poly, which has campuses in Albany and Marcy, and the school’s Fort Schuyler real estate management affiliate.

EDGE and Empire State — tasked with control of the Marcy Nanocenter as the ams AG situation deteriorated — responded with a renewed commitment to continue infrastructure development at the site to make it as attractive as possible to perspective tenants and to keep on marketing the location.

“We’ve been all across the globe this year,” said DiMeo Thursday as he talked about the marketing program.

To aid in the sales effort, EDGE hired a real estate business that works with the semiconductor industry. It specializes in the sale and purchase of chip fabrication plants. DiMeo said it has increasingly talked to companies about new construction opportunities as the capacity at existing plants reaches maximum levels and the inventory of factories on the market shrinks.

“They have directed quite a lot of lead activity our way over the last 12 months,” he said. “We’ve had a number of direct sales calls.”

DiMeo highlighted infrastructure projects that have been completed or are in the works. EDGE identified the site in the late 1990s as a candidate for a computer chip plant and has been working ever since to put make the location “shovel ready” for a project. The executive cited water and sewer improvements, electric transmission line and substation construction, power transformer installation, and an interior road being built to serve the site of about 400 acres. The location has been designed to accommodate three plants and related facilities

DiMeo told the group that the time is right to attract the attention of potential tenants.

“The industry is very much in an upcycle right now,” he said.

The industry is growing at the rate of 22 percent this year and the outlook for the foreseeable future is strong, according to DiMeo.

He said the Marcy Nanocenter is well positioned because of the incentives, including more than $500 million in state money, and a company can “get in the ground pretty quickly” thanks to the infrastructure work. That timeframe is critical, DiMeo says, because companies need assurances that tight management deadlines can be met when they make site selections. 

Shared optimism

County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. said Friday he’s optimistic there will be good news about the site by mid-2018.

“I am hopeful,” he said, noting that positive steps had occurred this year aimed at attracting a tenant.

Howard Zemsky, the state’s economic development commissioner, spoke about the Marcy Nanocenter at a legislative hearing last month.

“We have been, and I have been, and our team has been very actively engaged with the semiconductor industry since the ams circumstance,” he said t the Nov. 13 Assembly hearing. “We have a number of very promising opportunities for Marcy. One of the most important things we did is continue the infrastructure work on that site.”

He then echoed DiMeo’s comment that the semiconductor business is doing well.

“The industry is booming. The industry is running out of capacity. I think that presents a good opportunity for Marcy,” he said. “That is the sense I get from my many conversations with people in the industry.

Zemsky also spoke of the advantages of a shovel-ready site.

“The time to market is particularly important,” he said. “You don’t know exactly what the demand is going to be, but the industry finds itself in a situation now where it needs to get to market quickly.

“All the permits, all of the engineering, all that is required to bring a site like Marcy online is very time consuming. The fact that we have advanced the infrastructure and continue to ready the site is making a difference to the companies we’re talking with. So, I continue to remain optimistic about the prospects for Marcy, and related to the chip fab industry.”

One year ago

By the end of November 2016, progress on the ams AG complex had stalled at the state level to the point where the company decided to go elsewhere to solve its need for added production.

Although progress was already ailing, work came to a virtual standstill on the ams AG project after former SUNY Poly President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros was arrested in September 2016 in the wake of a corruption scandal. Kaloyeros and others were accused by federal and state prosecutors of bid-rigging on behalf of favored developers in major state-supported development projects across New York.

The Marcy project was not named in the charges.

The facility held the longterm prospect of more than 1,000 new direct and indirect jobs following the start of commercial production in 2018. Construction jobs were estimated at more than 900.

Ams AG reached an agreement in 2015 under which New York state would build the factory on vacant land on the western edge of the SUNY Poly campus. The company was planning to initially invest $2 billion and create 1,000 jobs. The state budget included $585 million toward the nanocenter’s development. The announcement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August of that year was cause for jubilation.

There was even a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site in April 2016, led by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and company officials. While infrastructure preparations were well underway at that point and continue today, no actual building construction was ever started.