Despite the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting everything, economic development is still being polished in the Copper City through 2021 and beyond.
“Although we encountered many challenges throughout 2020, we did have some great news to share with the opening of a new grocery store, Hannaford’s, in north Rome, a beautiful new apartment complex, Dewitt Clinton Apartments in South Rome and continued progress associated with the Downtown Revitalization Initiative,” said Mayor Jacqueline Izzo in a statement.
Looking through the rest of this year, Izzo said the city can expect to see growth and business expansions.
“The Orgill, Inc., Warehouse Distribution Center is poised to begin accepting inventory, hiring 200+ workers and moving their products by early summer from their brand new distribution center at the former Skyline housing site on Griffiss,” Izzo said.
According to company information, that project is on target for on-time completion.
The distribution center construction has been deemed “essential” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With Orgill experiencing strong growth in 2020, the timeline has been accelerated to accommodate the increase in business.
Orgill expects construction to be complete by spring. A racking and conveyor system has already been installed which will allow the facility to begin being stocked with product.
By summer, construction will be fully complete and operational with about 225 employees working there.
“We are excited to expand our distribution network and look forward to the enhanced efficiencies this will create for our customers as we move forward,” said Boyden Moore, Orgill’s CEO and president, in a statement.
“We are eager to get the facility up and running and will begin to ramp up staffing at the facility as we move through this process,” added Randy Williams, Orgill’s executive vice president of distribution, in a statement.
Elsewhere in the city, Izzo points to more projects.
“Innovare, an open collaborative campus supporting Rome Lab, hosted two successful virtual technical events and will continue to grow its presence in our ecosystem in 2021. Supported by the Griffiss Institute, Innovare will partner with Rome Lab to bring the best and brightest in (research and development) to support quantum computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning in a new collaborative model. Oneida County continues to support redevelopment of Building 100 (A former United States Air Force Hangar at Griffiss International Airport) as they fit out the remaining hangar space for Skydome, which will be home to one of the country’s largest indoor UAS test facilities,” she said in a statement.
Also with business, comes housing projects.
In an update, Izzo continues, “Phase 1 of AirCity Lofts commenced in 2020 and the complex welcomed new residents to modern, market rate apartments in November. Phase 2 development is underway and will continue into 2021 providing 72 more apartments and commercial spaces.”
In early January, workers put the finishing touches on window trim and siding at the first phase of the $20 million complex on the Griffiss Business and Technology Park along Route 825.
The project also includes space for restaurants or other businesses on the ground floor.
Izzo added that this year, the city will turn its attention to the former Woodhaven base housing site, which it has been preparing for redevelopment this year. The project will offer single family housing options on the Floyd Avenue footprint close to the Griffiss Business and Technology Park.
Another business expansion project long on the burner and will be coming closer to completion this year is development of a new site for Cold Point.
“...Cold Point Manufacturing will soon complete their new 50,000 square foot facility at the site of the former Rome Cable, moving operations from the West Rome Industrial Park to the much larger facility this year,” she also said in a statement.
Over the summer, framing and utility work was completed on the future site for Cold Point Corp. — a manufacturer of replacement water source heat pump units.
Once complete, the company will relocate from its Success Drive location to a portion of the former Rome Cable complex off Erie Boulevard West, which underwent brownfield remediation.
Another business that set up shop at Griffiss in 2020 was Strategic Global Aviation.
The business was looking to be operational in the early summer, but by the end of the year all came together despite COVID-19 related delays, said SGA President and CEO John Hester.
SGA has contracted with Oneida County to use former Air Force hangar space in Building 101 on Hangar Road at Griffiss to work on airplanes. According to reports, the contract is for $1.96 million with an option to renew the agreement for an additional five years at a cost of $2,019,000. Hester said he thanks the county for their help putting everything together.
Recently, the state Department of Environmental Conservation granted the company certification to be able to paint airplanes at the site, a process that can take up to two weeks and involves the necessity of air pollutant controls and disposal guidelines, Hester said.
Hester said that last year, there was a shortage of work contracts as planes were largely grounded as COVID-19 infections went sky high.
Currently there are 18 employees, and Hester expects to have 100 working at the site by the end of 2021.
All roads lead to Rome
A Rome adjacent project, the construction of Cree, Marcy’s silicon carbide semiconductor wafer fab site, is also moving along and once complete will be a boost to the Utica-Rome corridor.
“The fab will be fully enclosed by this spring, with clean room qualification and equipment moving in by the summer. Production is slated to start in the first half of calendar year 2022,” according to Gregg Lowe, Cree’s CEO.
Lowe adds that despite COVID-19, construction is on schedule, and long term growth plans are within sight which plans to employ over 600 people by 2029.
“Since announcing our Mohawk Valley expansion in September 2019, we’ve continued to make great progress on our growth strategy as we execute our long-term plan. We also shared a number of important business updates during Cree’s second quarter fiscal 2021 earnings call ... First, we announced that we are changing the company name from Cree to Wolfspeed (by the end of 2021) to better align with the value proposition that we are committed to delivering to our customers,” Lowe said in a statement.