Monday, March 23, 2009

Beyond Nanotech

Last week I had the good fortune to deliver the keynote speech at the Leadership Mohawk Valley (LMV) "Follow the Leader" awards banquet. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on the Mohawk Valley and what I've learned about the area thus far. It’s been said that "the economy never goes too high nor too low here in the Mohawk Valley." Yet history tells us that this region is capable of substantial highs including the Erie Canal, the railroads that followed, and the bustling mills and factories that were nourished first by the Canal and railroads and later by the Thruway. All this led to the era of Griffiss Air Force Base. From the Canal through the Air Force Base, the Mohawk Valley enjoyed a 175-year high.

True, there were less prosperous periods of economic transition during that century and three-quarters. That’s exactly what I believe we’re experiencing now. The Mohawk Valley has lived through a transition for the past 15 years as manufacturing and military employers departed. Yet this same recent period has seen the local emergence of a very strong high-tech sector and our region’s largest employer didn’t exist before 1993. My recent trip to IBM research headquarters (see last week's blog) piqued my appreciation not only for the latest in emerging technologies, but also for the incredible talent, spirit and organizations that make these technologies come alive in the Mohawk Valley. From the Air Force Research Lab to the Griffiss Institute and SUNY-IT, and from IT-based employers to cybersecurity researchers and nanotech entrepreneurs, this region is actively laying the foundations of another defining period of economic prosperity.

Landing a large nanotech chip fabrication plant would be wonderful. The efforts of Mohawk Valley Edge to develop the Marcy Nanocenter site will yield fruit at some point, but the future of this region must go beyond nanotech. We need to change our community focus in the headlines from "chip fab plant to employ 1,000 people" to understand the importance of expanding broadband access here locally; to understand the emerging green technologies and how to best position this area for the myriad applications that are yet to be invented; and to recognize the importance of quality of life issues in an increasingly mobile society where people don't always have to physically locate where their employment is (e.g., telecommuting, etc.).

As I said in my keynote address at the LMV banquet, I believe the next five years will define the next fifty for the Mohawk Valley (and perhaps the nation). To make the most of these next few years, we need to align the priorities in this region and move toward the next definitive period for this region. Emerging technologies are going to redefine how we work, live and play and the Mohawk Valley is poised to reap the benefits of what is just now coming in to view - it's up to all of us to look for it. If you have any thoughts on this, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.