January 03, 2011

'Truly A Gem' Of A Place

By: by Eric Anderson, Business Editor, Times Union


ALBANY -- Newly elected Congressman Chris Gibson got his first close look at the Albany Nanotech complex Thursday, and came away suitably impressed.

But then, the futuristic complex populated with giant robotic machines costing in the tens of millions of dollars and bunnysuit-clad workers can seem almost like science fiction.

What officials at the complex, part of the University at Albany, emphasized was the uniqueness of what is being accomplished at the corner of Fuller Road and Washington Avenue Extension, and the huge impact it is having on the state's economy.

The average nanotechnology worker earns $81,000 a year, and the Albany Nanotech complex represents a $6.5 billion investment. When expansion across Washington Avenue is complete by 2014, total investment will easily have topped $7 billion.

Steve Janack, vice president for marketing and communications for the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, said that every dollar in public funding had leveraged six or seven dollars in private investment by the companies and organizations that have set up shop here to work with academic researchers.

The applied research to develop succeeding generations of semiconductors also produces the machines, or "tools," to manufacture them.

"We've got the five largest equipment suppliers here," said Michael Fancher, CNSE's vice president for business development and economic outreach. "We have established a center of competence in equipment manufacturing."

"This is truly a gem," Gibson said as the tour wound down. "We're talking about significant job growth in New York state. We're talking about the possibility of youth to go to school and college and then stay right here" to pursue careers in nanotechnology.

The near collapse of financial markets two years ago may have helped revive interest in manufacturing's role in the economy, Fancher suggested at one point.

He also talked about the challenges of companies that are intense competitors in some areas working together on common technology goals in other areas.

In some cases, glass walls within the giant clean rooms separate researchers and their projects.

"Our employees are the ones operating the tools. We're the neutral players. We also own the tools," Fancher said.

CNSE also is working on tools to produce microprocessors on 450-mm. discs. Currently, 300-mm. silicon discs are the industry standard.

"You're looking at the world's first 450-mm. wafer tools," Fancher told Gibson at one stop along the tour. "When that actually goes into production no one knows yet. It's several years out."

With the industry consortium Sematech conducting its research and development in Albany, and GlobalFoundries building a $6.5 billion semiconductor fabrication plant in nearby Malta, CNSE officials see a bright future for the Capital Region.

Local suppliers, such as a Ballston Spa crane operator, have developed new skills operating in clean room environments that they're now marketing to the semiconductor industry.

While the IBMs and Intels are here, CNSE also is working with smaller companies to develop their products.

"We can pilot prototyping," Fancher said, overcoming some of the barriers to entering a market that the small firms otherwise would face.

Fancher and Janack also talked about the cooperative efforts under way with other institutions across upstate New York.

At the end of the tour, and before Gibson entered a private meeting with CNSE officials, he vowed to work closely with his colleague, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, to support the CNSE programs.

Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Truly-a-gem-of-a-place-929253.php#ixzz19zUq6xrH