May 15, 2007

Big Hopes Pinned On Science Of Small

By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union


ALBANY -- Jobs created through the University at Albany's expanded International Sematech venture are high-paying positions that would provide fuel for the Capital Region economy -- including a somewhat stagnant real estate market.

State political leaders unveiled a $760 million plan Wednesday that would expand what's known as International Sematech at UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering from 250 jobs to 700. International Sematech is an offshoot of a consortium of computer chip manufacturers called Sematech based in Austin, Texas.

James Ader, executive vice president of the Greater Capital Association of Realtors, an 11-county trade group in Albany, said the announcement is not expected to raise housing prices "immediately" after a year without general appreciation. But there is a psychological element.

"We think it's a terrific announcement," he said Thursday. "People's spirits will be a little bit higher, and that helps too."

The state is promising $300 million over five years to the Nano College to fund International Sematech, while Sematech and its member companies are prepared to provide $410 million in funding. The federal government would give another $50 million.

Officials from the Nano College released figures that show the average salary of the 450 new jobs created through International Sematech would be $98,000 annually -- about 75 percent higher than the average private-sector wage in the state.

With fringe benefits, total compensation could reach as high as $130,000 a year.

Back in 2003, New York state forged an initial joint venture with Sematech called International Sematech North that was valued at $400 million; it created 250 jobs at the Nano College over five years.

The new deal with Sematech builds on that joint venture, and once all the hires have occurred, more than 2,000 people will be working at the college's Albany NanoTech complex on Fuller Road.

The Nano College also estimates that International Sematech will support an "ecosystem" of 500 supplier and contractor companies across the state, including 150 in the Capital Region.

Over time, about 4,550 high-tech jobs at those companies will be supported by International Sematech, about half of which already exist. The average salary of those jobs is $81,000.

Three of Sematech's 15 members have operations in New York state, but more would be expected to follow now, said Alain Kaloyeros, chief administrative officer of the Nano College.

"With the right business climate and incentives, there's no reason for all of them not to be located here," he said.

Economic developers from Utica to Plattsburgh were excited about the news Thursday, hoping that if International Sematech succeeds in bringing more computer chip manufacturers and their suppliers to New York, their cities would be able to provide them with space.

One of the groups with an eye on the project is Mohawk Valley Edge, a nonprofit based in Rome that is marketing a 280-acre parcel in Marcy, outside Utica.

The Marcy site was second in the running for the $3.2 billion computer chip factory that Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is planning for Saratoga County. AMD, along with companies like IBM Corp. and Intel Corp., is a member of Sematech.

"We think (the Sematech deal) is just further validation that New York state is viewed as the go-to state in the industry," said Mohawk Valley Edge President Steven DiMeo. "We think that we're well positioned to be the next site."

The Plattsburgh business community believes International Sematech's growth could help the North Country as well, especially since it is located between Albany and a semiconductor industry cluster in Quebec, where IBM has operations. The former Air Force base there has been redeveloped into a technology park and airport.

"We've been positioning ourselves for that very possibility," said Garry Douglas, president of the Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce. "We believe that the more that there is collaboration and exchange (between Albany and Quebec), the more Plattsburgh ends up being positioned in the middle of something."

Student going through Hudson Valley Community College's two-year semiconductor manufacturing degree program are also salivating at the news about the Sematech deal.

The new program, which now enrolls 14 students, will graduate its first three students May 19. Those students are trained to work as technicians in semiconductor manufacturing and research and development settings.

"I think that after today's newspaper, we actually had a spike in (admissions) activity," said Phil White, dean of HVCC's school of engineering and industrial technologies.

White said it costs his students less than $6,000 to go through the two-year program, and they are in high demand for technical jobs paying around $40,000 a year. Many of his students are just 19 or 20 years old.

"That's not bad, particularly when that's the starting point," he said.