October 04, 2011

In A World Of Change, We Need To Value Encores

By: Mike Hendricks

Source: The Business Review

“The first thought was how great this is for the region and state. And the second thought was: What are we going to do for an encore?”

That was Alain Kaloyeros speaking to Business Review reporter Richard A. D’Errico back in 2002. Kaloyeros was talking moments after then-Gov. George Pataki and then-University at Albany President Karen Hitchcock joined him in a celebratory announcement that Sematech, the computer-chip research consortium, was coming to the Albany nanotech complex from Austin, Texas.

There have been a lot of encores for Kaloyeros personally, and for the local economy in the nine years since then. The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering over at the University at Albany has grown and grown and continues to grow. We have the GlobalFoundries chip plant being built up in Malta. General Electric has expanded its research and development and is building a new battery plant.

This week’s announcement reported on Page One by Robin Cooper brings the last holdouts of the semiconductor industry into the Albany realm. Intel was always the big fish missing from the pond. So the announcement that Intel, the world’s dominant manufacturer of computer chips, was buying into the Albany nanotech program by creating an East Coast headquarters here was especially rewarding.

The $4.8 billion investment also creates nearly a thousand high-paying jobs in Albany and even more around the state, and enhances the potential for another chip plant to be built here.

Kaloyeros brought a mastery of dealing with the political intricacies to blend the resources of private industry and government, and the formula brings the industry’s biggest players to the Capital Region in a way that corporate giants seldom do.

Before that 2002 announcement set things into motion, the only big-time tech company in the Capital Region was General Electric in Schenectady and Niskayuna.

The announcement of the $4.8 billion in private and public investment came while former President Bill Clinton was in Albany to speak at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development conference.

Cuomo and Kaloyeros demonstrate that leadership does matter.

Hours later the Public Employee Federation was rejecting the contract terms that had been accepted by CSEA, setting up the likelihood of state employee layoffs.

The PEF contract rejection was a reminder of the dark time of the last few years that New York seemed to be putting behind it. It provided a sharp contrast to the forward-looking, positive news that dominated the week. There have been signs of mature, visionary changes in union thinking the last year or so with the CSEA’s acceptance of economic reality to avoid layoffs and the recent flexibility of the union local at GE that allowed for the new battery plant to be built here.

Also on the same day, The Wall Street Journal had a report about a study by three economists contending that the United States economy had lost a disproportionate number of manufacturing jobs because of the rise of China. The economists cited the speed of the rise of the Chinese economy as the reason, saying the American economy did not have the time it needed to replace lost jobs with new ones.

And then the next day came the announcement by Jeff Bezos that Amazon is finally going to be selling its own tablet, this one using cloud technology and undercutting the price of Apple’s iPad. Any local retailer who does not understand the significance of that development for his business, well ... change is coming faster and faster for you, as well.

To me it seems all connected.

Everything is happening faster and faster.

Leadership matters more than ever. Cuomo and Kaloyeros are prime examples of that here in Albany. Bezos and Apple’s Steve Jobs are examples of that in their industries.

The semiconductor industry is all about speed and change. Back in 2002 the industry was moving to 300 millimeter wafers and Kaloyeros got in front of that change to attract the industry to Albany. Now the industry is moving to 450 millimeter wafers and no one can afford to be left behind. And Kaloyeros has Albany leading the way. It won’t stop.

We have to deal with the reality of all that. We cannot deny it, whether we are union members, politicians or business leaders.

Leadership matters, more than ever.

Whatever we do now, no matter the business we are in, we need to be working on our encore.

The need for encores is pressing.