Tech hub competition draws flurry of applications

The joint bid by Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse to secure potentially tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for a “tech hub” faces stiff competition.

But the partners in the bid say they believe their regional approach will give them a leg up in the competition.

“We feel the consortium that we built, which spans these three major metros working collaboratively, is going to be unique on the competitive landscape, and a real differentiator for us,” said Joseph Stefko, president and CEO of ROC2025, an economic development alliance in the Rochester area.

There were nearly 250 applicants to the tech hub program, which is being overseen by the the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Western New York is certainly in need of the help.

The Buffalo Niagara region has an undersized tech sector, which contributes to its slow pace of job growth. Tech is the growth industry of the future, a source of good-paying jobs and has the potential to attract job seekers from other areas.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer has pushed for the tech hubs program as part of the CHIPS and Science Act that he championed. He has also advocated for upstate New York to be selected for a tech hub.

“The number of applications was surprising to all of us, including Schumer’s office,” said Dottie Gallagher, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Dottie Gallagher

Dottie Gallagher, president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said she was surprised by the number of tech hub applications.

The federal program aims to create innovation centers outside of traditional locations like Silicon Valley. The upstate bid focuses on the semiconductor industry and advanced manufacturing.

Upstate New York wants to promote semiconductor development for jobs and investment. Micron Technology plans to build a semiconductor plant near Syracuse, a project that could reach $100 billion. And Edwards Vacuum is building a $319 million plant in Genesee County to serve the semiconductor industry.

Getting selected for a tech hub would not only boost upstate New York’s image as a center for innovation, but promote much-needed job growth.

The tech sector represents employment growth of the future; the tech hub designation would provide the region with resources to better develop that sector. That, in turn, would help the region attract more people from outside the area to fill good-paying jobs.

Christina Orsi, president of the John R. Oishei Foundation, said job growth fueled by a tech hub would help the region retain a larger percentage of the graduates of local colleges and universities, by giving them more employment opportunities to choose from.

The EDA, which is part of the Commerce Department, will follow a two-step process with its tech hub program.

In the first step, the agency this fall is expected to designate at least 20 tech hubs around the country.

Next, those tech hubs will be eligible to apply for implementation grants. That process is expected to be completed sometime next year, with five to 10 implementation grants awarded in the $50 million to $75 million range.

The upstate bid – formally called the NY SMART I-Corridor – draws upon assets across the three regions, including their workforce, industries and higher-education institutions.

Gallagher said each of the three regions has its strengths, “but it is the combination that really makes it a powerhouse application.”

The tech hubs program is estimated at $10 billion; only $500 million of that total has been funded so far.

“We saw, because of this massive opportunity, because of the great list of assets and willing partners in these communities, it made perfect sense for us in Central New York to say, ‘Hey, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, let’s stack this up and let’s work together on something,’ “ said Benjamin Sio, senior vice president of strategy, policy and planning at CenterState CEO, an economic development group in Syracuse.

Sio said if the upstate application is chosen, the tech hub program could boost supply chain companies, as well companies that could make changes to become suppliers to the semiconductor industry. The program could also promote workforce development by bringing more workers off the sidelines, and bolster innovation by aligning research at higher-education institutions, he said.

Through the process, the three regions have become better at collaborating with each other, said Orsi, who is a former longtime economic development official.

“This is the first time that I’ve seen us shift from sort of competing to truly collaborating, and not on a transactional level,” she said.

Matt Glynn

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