Albany to get computer center

Consortium plans to open $400 million research facility in fall

August 18, 2002|By Josh Getlin | Josh Getlin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK - A group of the world's largest computer chip makers has announced that they will open a huge research and development center at the State University in Albany - a move that could significantly boost New York's beleaguered upstate economy.

The $400 million center, operated by International Sematech, a consortium of 12 major computer manufacturers, is set to open in the fall. It is expected to generate thousands of jobs as well as new high-tech companies in the Upper Hudson Valley, according to New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who lobbied heavily over the last 10 months to bring the facility to New York.

"This has the potential to be the best thing for upstate since the construction of the Erie Canal," said Pataki, who may reap considerable political advantage from the project as he seeks a third term in November. "Forty-nine other states and nations from around the globe would be thrilled to have secured this facility, but it's coming right here."

Pataki predicted that the new center would help a region hit hard by lingering unemployment and a wave of factory closings.

"Today there is a buzz out there," he said, adding that a multitude of new high-tech companies "are going to look at Buffalo, they're going to look at Rochester, they're going to look at Syracuse, they're going to look across this state."

First in Austin

The new center, to be called International Sematech North, will be the second such facility for Sematech - an acronym standing for Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology - in the United States. The first was built in Austin, Texas, in 1988, and spurred a boom in the region. Currently, more than 2,000 technology companies are located in the Austin area, employing more than 125,000 people, many of them with high-paying jobs.

New York had competed fiercely for the first Sematech contract along with 35 other states. When the group announced plans for a second center, Pataki began negotiations with consortium officials. He met with Sematech President Robert Helms, stressing New York's commitment to high-tech research as well as the Hudson Valley's low living costs.

"I've seen Silicon Valley," said Pataki, summarizing his lobbying pitch. "It's hot, it's dry, there's earthquakes. Come to Albany."

Before making its decision, the group considered sites in Europe and several states. The consortium includes IBM, Intel, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, Advanced Micro Devices and Agere Systems (Lucent); Philips of the Netherlands, Infineon Technologies of Germany and STMicroelectronics of France, Hynix of Korea and TSMC of Taiwan.

Economy an issue

For years, candidates of both parties have sought to use upstate New York's economic woes as an issue, and many expected that either State Comptroller Carl McCall or former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo - the two Democrats vying to take on Pataki in November - would do the same.

Pataki's backers believe that he had found a way to defuse the issue with the recent announcement.

Although the new Sematech center will initially create only 260 jobs, thousands more may be generated as the facility begins manufacturing new, state-of-the-art 300-millimeter wafers - or silicon discs nearly a foot in diameter. Sponsors are hoping for a repeat of the Austin experience, where the rapid growth of a university center paved the way for more high-tech companies to flow into the region and cluster around the new center.

Josh Getlin is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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