There’s yet another chapter in the Upstate New York nanotechnology saga — this time, concerning long-closed cleanrooms in the town of Greece, on the shores of Lake Ontario.
The issue centers around a meeting of state leaders in March 2016 in Rochester, where they were promoting the AIM Photonics Institute — in particular the arrival of the Test, Assembly and Packaging (TAP) facility to the 115 Canal Ponds facility in Greece. Governor Andrew Cuomo was among those hailing the nanotechnology potential of the Canal Ponds facility, saying that it would help attract R&D companies to the region.
Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, at the time the president and CEO of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, confirmed that photonics companies Avogy and Photonica would be moving to Canal Ponds in order to use the facility’s cleanrooms. (Kaloyeros was charged in September 2016 with blatantly rigging the bids of multimillion-dollar development projects to benefit themselves and favored contractors, after which he was suspended without pay from SUNY Poly. He was eventually found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy in July 2018.)
Then-Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit back in July 2015 to laud the site and its cleanrooms, and the potential for growth that the facility would bring to the region. Biden, who graduated from nearby Syracuse University College of Law in 1968, said that he had known people who worked for area companies such as Eastman Kodak and Xerox — these companies had experienced mass layoffs in recent years, and so Biden applauded the initiative to bring more jobs back to the region.
The problem with all this is that the Canal Ponds facility didn’t have any cleanrooms when these announcements were made. SUNY Poly purchased the building in 2013 and then stripped out the cleanrooms in order to accommodate a planned solar panel project; a News 8 article also notes that the cleanrooms were too small and outdated to accommodate the AIM Photonics Institute’s needs anyway.
However, the entire project came to a halt when money from the Department of Energy didn’t come through. Today, 115 Canal Ponds is still owned by SUNY Poly but remains empty … and off the tax rolls. Greece Town Supervisor Bill Reilich recently sent a letter to SUNY Poly leaders requesting that they put Canal Ponds on the market.
The latest news comes after several years after Governor Cuomo touted upstate New York as a new Silicon Valley, in an effort to attract nanotechnology businesses to the region to jump-start a failing economy. The post-Erie Canal era and the downfall of the local steel industry — plus the aforementioned layoffs from Kodak and Xerox — sent the surrounding area into a long period of decline, also resulting in a “brain drain” when engineering graduates from nearby schools such as Syracuse sought work in more prosperous areas of the country. IBM, Corning Inc., GE, and GLOBALFOUNDRIES have stuck around, though, hoping that the region will experience a revitalization.
Read more: Is Upstate NY the New Silicon Valley?
The revitalization efforts came into question, however, during the various scandals faced by the Cuomo administration. It was revealed in May 2016 that Cuomo’s former senior aide and campaign manager, Joseph Percoco, earned at least $70,000 in consulting fees in 2014 from two entities that do business with the state. Cuomo’s upstate revitalization programs went under federal investigation for improper lobbying and conflicts of interest. In response, the governor announced that his administration had hired a former criminal prosecutor to review his upstate economic development initiatives. This included the “Buffalo Billion” project, a $1 billion investment in the Buffalo-area economy to create thousands of jobs and spur billions in new investment and economic activity over the next several years.
The Buffalo Billion trial found Alain Kaloyeros and three upstate developers guilty of rigging the open-bidding process to make sure that specific companies favorable to Cuomo would be awarded the contracts. Governor Cuomo hasn’t been accused of any legal wrongdoing, but this certainly doesn’t look good for him, and could potentially play out in his September primary race where he’ll face up against Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon. Kaloyeros will face sentencing in October.