July 24, 2006

Tech Valley Is All About Tomorrow

By: by John Cavalier, Chairman, MapInfo; Reported in the Times Union


"Risky Business," last Sunday's Perspective headline reads, rerring not to the 1980s Tom Cruise film, but to one of the most significant economic development advancements for Tech Valley.

But there are no parallels between the advent of a global semiconductor leader to the Capital Region and the lighthearted comedy in which a teenager, looking for fun at home while his parents are away, becomes caught up in a situation that quickly gets out of hand.

Serious economic development initiatives -- such as this one, which enticed Advanced Micro Devices -- may begin with taking risks. But the protracted recruitment process, due diligence of our economic development organizations and unflinching leadership of government officials like state Sen. Joseph Bruno and Gov. George Pataki, obviate the forebodings by author Michael Marvin.

Early on, Bruno recognized the critical importance of getting funding for Luther Forest, so it could be developed and would attract companies like AMD that could select a site anywhere in the world. We competed for AMD with countries around the globe -- and we won.

The Luther Forest project is about transformation and tomorrow, not pessimism and the past. This initiative demonstrates that Tech Valley, and specifically Albany Nanotech, where the world's best 300 micron, 12-inch wafer is being developed, can compete with any region in the world in the field of semiconductor development. That realization should engender pride and positive perceptions, not the pessimism and gloom offered by Marvin.

The assertion that our region is trying to "buy 1,200 jobs" with state and local incentives reflects fallacious and flawed thinking. We are investing in the economy of a major region of New York, bringing thousands of jobs and billions in investment to Tech Valley. We are providing the groundwork for companies that will begin here and relocate here because of the Luther Forest project; for the ideas and technologies that will emanate from universities and research-related operations; for opportunities for people to work, live and raise families here; for the support services all that will grow -- retail and restaurants, law and marketing, construction and countless others.

"Why are we spending $1.2 billion?" the author ponders.

This is why. Because we believe in tomorrow. We believe in our region. And we believe in the generations who will follow us here.

Marvin should not be amazed that many people would like to receive some credit for an initiative that will help transform the regional economy. Many, many people worked to make this happen; many volunteered their time and many went beyond the call of their everyday jobs to support this initiative. Most people recognize that we cannot return to heavy manufacturing, or expect state and local government to be the only aspiration for our regional work force.

Tech Valley's future is inextricably linked to a competitive global marketplace that requires us to be more than just a service economy. We must leverage our universities, our intellectual capital and our quality of life to attract and retain the industries of tomorrow.

This means partnerships of the public and private sectors with education and organized labor. This means incentives to develop existing companies and lure new ones. We must help nurture Plug Power, Intermagnetics, Evident Technologies, MapInfo and others.

We must encourage and support GE Global Research to stay here. And we must attract more operations such as AMD, Sematech North, Tokyo Electron and the various other businesses that have come, and will come, because of our commitment to technology-based growth.

I have seen firsthand the risks and rewards of places like Silicon Valley, and understand the regional need for a collective self-confidence to act today for future returns. I sense this about Tech Valley.

I see it in not only Luther Forest, but in the collaborative development of Tech Valley High School. In fact, Tech Valley High attracted the attention of the New Technology Foundation in California, which is funded by one the world's technology leaders, Bill Gates through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation saw what was happening here and understood immediately that Tech Valley needed, and would support, a school that focuses on math, science and technology.

Perhaps my tendency to see beyond the cynicism of others represents my perspective as the current chairman of MapInfo -- as opposed to that of Michael Marvin, the former chairman of MapInfo. Perhaps it also reflects my 40 years in business, two-thirds of which has been in the high-tech sector with leading-edge companies. I have seen, participated in and understand the level of risk necessary to make major breakthroughs.

When the Erie Canal was proposed, there were Marvinesque cynics who sarcastically referred to "Clinton's Ditch," voicing alarm about potential obsolescence of an expensive public works project. Yet the Erie Canal proved to be an economic transformational initiative that changed upstate New York and the nation, improved the lives of millions of New Yorkers and benefited generation after generation.

We should consider the AMD investment in the broad context of the Erie Canal, not in the narrow confines of a regional rail link or energy efficient buildings as a potential tourist attraction. We have done it right; we studied the situation and have laid the foundation for not only AMD, but for other companies in the technology field -- companies that are here and are poised for major leading-edge breakthroughs.

"Risky Business"? Not really.

The real risk would be to ignore what is going on in the world. Or worse, retreat to a parochial perspective in which lack of self-esteem, limited vision and unwillingness to invest in the future restrict our social and economic advancement.

We need all the optimism we can garner to support this vision. All of us who have worked so long and so hard to help transform the region urge Marvin to get a full understanding of this initiative and what it means to the region and to the country -- and get on board.

John C. Cavalier is chairman of MapInfo Corp. He formerly was its president and chief executive officer. He also has been vice chairman of the Center for Economic Growth and vice president and general manager of Apple Computers.