A dose of well-deserved optimism

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Don’t be fooled by the format of Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.’s first ever State of the County address in video format: That reality is simply a sign of the new normal in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, look at both the location and the substance of Picente’s speech — because in spite of the pandemic and the many hardships it has brought to the state, nation and our corner of the world, there is a much deserved sense of optimism and numerous telltale signs of progress.

Picente gave his videoed remarks from The Innovare Advancement Center, a county-owned facility at Building 100 on Rome’s Griffiss Business & Technology Park. The 150,000-square-foot research and development facility was created through a partnership between Oneida County Government, the Air Force Research Laboratory, Griffiss Institute and the state. The facility houses research space, two quantum labs and two neuromorphic and nanoelectronics-focused labs. It’s already proven its worth with tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts awarded to area companies, and that is just the beginning of its extensive potential.

Next door to Innovare will be, when construction is complete, SKYDOME, the nation’s largest indoor drone test site. Already, companies and researchers from across the globe are lining up to utilize the facility to test their unmanned aerial systems as the technology truly begins to take off. Across the business park sits the massive Orgill distribution center and the more than 200 jobs eyed there when it is fully operational.

Also taking off is the city’s housing stock — or rather, development of several residential complexes from the Air City Lofts on Griffiss Park to the DeWitt Clinton apartments in South Rome to the soon-to-be constructed Copper City Lofts across from Rome City Hall or the townhouses and single-family home complex proposed off Merrick Road. These developments are attracting residents to our area’s burgeoning — and traditional — economic
engines.

Approximately 11 miles to the east in Marcy, one of the biggest private sector technology investments in North America, is taking shape. When construction is complete, and it remains on schedule, Cree’s $1.2 billion high-tech manufacturing facility will be the world’s largest Silicon Carbide Fabrication plant.

Keep going east, and the progress continues to be visible with each completed section of the Mohawk Valley Health System’s $600 million Wynn Hospital, which along with a reconstruction of Oriskany Boulevard, construction of the sports and entertainment Nexus Center and related amenities is assisting the transformation of Utica’s downtown.

These investments have been decades in the making and show the promise of both persistence but also careful planning and patience. It has been nearly 25 years since the realignment of Griffiss Air Force Base and the development of the Griffiss Local Development Corp. and Mohawk Valley EDGE. The foresight of our economic development strategy is now coming to fruition. While other communities hit during the mid 1990s base closure and realignment process went for a quick fix, and have little significant economic development to show for their efforts, we are genuinely fortunate that our efforts have our region poised for sustainable — and highly diversified — long-term growth.

Without question, the past year has been filled with challenge and loss. We can, and should, remember that more than 400 Oneida County residents have died from the coronavirus, which to date, has infected more than 21,000 county residents, Likewise, we should look ahead to see what role our region and, or should, play as our region, state and nation emerge from the pandemic. Can local manufacturers, who switched gears over the past year to produce personal protection equipment, become leaders in the field? Can our health care systems, which have cooperated behind the scenes at remarkable levels over the past year, position themselves for future collaboration and growth?

Those will be interesting questions to see answered over the coming years — just as the last few years have shown the resounding positive impacts of plans years in the making, executed at a high level.

NOTE: You can watch the full video of County Executive Anthony J. Picente’s State of the County address, online at: https://youtu.be/erL9HU0BUBY

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