May 04, 2012

Nanotech Creating Rust Belt Jobs For Everyone

By: Jim Axelrod, CBS News


(CBS News) The Labor Department reported Thursday another 365,000 Americans joined the line for unemployment benefits last week. It was 27,000 fewer than the week before, but still a high number.

In the capital of New York State, they're not waiting for an economic turnaround.

CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports they're creating one in a laboratory, a lab that uses nanotechnology. That's the science of subatomic particles to make computer chips and jobs.

Don't let the physical decay of downtown Albany, New York, fool you. This may be the rust belt, but there's a new kind of industrial revolution going on here. Just ask John Keefe.

"The recession seems to be every place but here," Keefe said.

"Here" is Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Keefe, who describes himself as blue collar, is supporting an army of PhDs creating the world's next generation of computer chips.

"I felt I was way over my head, but once I started doing what they were asking me to do it was like any other job," Keefe said, adding he had a steep learning curve. "I didn't even know what a clean room was."

Keefe worked in a local paper factory for 23 years before being laid off. Today, he's one of more than 2,700 employees at the Nano-College, supporting 250 professors and students who measure progress in units smaller than an atom. Statewide, the college is the engine behind nearly 13,000 jobs.

"This is unique. There's nothing like it," said physicist Alain Kaloyeros.

Kaloyeros built the Nano-College by using a billion-dollar state investment to attract another $13 billion from computer industry giants like Intel and IBM.

"For the first time in history, to my knowledge, the computer chip and nanotechnology industry have put together a consortium that is run and managed by state, by a college, not by the industry itself," Kaloyeros said.

This unique arrangement allows companies to get more bang for their research dollar. Students get a chance to audition for the biggest names in the business, and people like John Keefe get what's been lacking in this recovery: a job.

Keefe says it's proof that in a high-tech world, there's a chance for a blue collar guy to thrive.

"There's plenty of us out there, you know, that can find their niche," Keefe said.

Kaloyeros says those 13,000 jobs statewide will double in the next 5 years. That could mean $2 billion in payroll pumped into New York State's economy. There's nothing "nano" about that.