MFG Advocate …

The Empire (State) Strikes Back

By  Penny Brown, Public Affairs Director

Western New York – known to some as “upstate” or “not New York City” – is known for a lot of things. Chicken wings. Great Lakes. Lots and lots of snow. But these days, it’s getting known even more as a hub for high-tech manufacturing innovation – and improving the region’s employment and economic fortunes. 

The region has a long and proud manufacturing history, but its fortunes fell upon hard times in recent years as some of its most storied businesses languished or located operations elsewhere. Currently, the region around Buffalo, Rochester, and the rest of Western New York is striving to get manufacturing back on track – and seeing some success.

Here are a few developments in manufacturing – and regional economic development programs – from the Great Lakes region of the Empire State:

The Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Integrated Photonics: Rochester, N.Y., will be home to the sixth of nine planned advanced manufacturing hubs that are part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. It will be focused on integrated photonics, technologies that include lasers, optics, fiber optics, and electro-optical devices. Somewhat fittingly, this institute will be located in the tower that once served as headquarters for Bausch + Lomb, which along with Xerox and Kodak were the backbone of Rochester’s prime imaging and lens industry. B+L headquarters moved to New Jersey in 2013.

“What you really want to see is announcements of expansions and locations of advanced manufacturing in Rochester,” University of Rochester President Joel Seligman told Time Warner Cable News in Rochester. “… I expect in the next few years, you’re going to see a lot of announcements.”

Buffalo Billion: In 2012, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would invest $1 billion over 10 years to revive the Buffalo regional economy. The goal is to create long-term projects and initiatives for targeted industries that will generate strong economic value – health & life sciences, tourism, entrepreneurship and advanced manufacturing. 

It’s not been without controversy, as some of the contracts awarded as part of the initiative are under investigation by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. It’s also uncertain what will happen with the funding once Cuomo leaves office. But for now, there are benefits for advanced manufacturing, as currently, two centers have come to fruition as part of the program.   

Buffalo Manufacturing Works: Located on Buffalo’s Main Street, this facility focuses on applied R&D services for advanced manufacturing. The idea is that companies can use the center’s resources as an affordable means to test and develop new technologies, in addition to improving their existing products and processes. Specific areas of research include flexible automation and controls, advanced materials and testing, additive manufacturing and advanced fabrication.

Innovation Hub at RiverBend: Billed as a “state-of-the-art campus for high-tech and green energy manufacturing,” the Buffalo High-Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub at RiverBend will be home to the SolarCity GigaFactory. The site was once home to a Republic Steel manufacturing facility, and in its new incarnation will focus on building rooftop solar power technologies. At full production, the facility will generate more than 1 gigawatt of annual solar capacity – the equivalent of more than 122 tons of coal.

AMT has a number of members in Western New York – are you one of them? What can you say about the industry’s current fortunes in the region? Drop me a line at pbrown@AMTonline.org