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Tech Initiative unites businesses, educators in 13 counties

November 18, 2012
By AMANDA MAY METZGER , The Leader Herald

About three years ago the Johnstown school district introduced the Young Entrepreneurs Academy in which students gain real-life experience starting their own businesses.

On Tuesday that program was showcased at a launch event for a new regional education initiative by the semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries and the Albany-based Center for Economic Growth. Johnstown was one of just six districts in the entire Tech Valley region showcased at the event.

The Tech Valley Connection for Education and Jobs initiative, in the works since 2009, was unveiled at the Hudson Valley Community College's TEC-SMART campus located in the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's Saratoga Technology + Energy Park, commonly called STEP in Malta, Saratoga County.

Article Photos

Pete Piazza, left, of Gloversville High School and Joseph Novotny of Amsterdam High School work together on a metal lathe during their engineering technology class at HFM BOCES in Johnstown in December 2011. (The Leader-Herald/ Bill Trojan)

The event included remarks by business and education leaders, student showcases and tours of GlobalFoundries' Manufacturing Technology Development Center.

Officials are hoping the new initiative, which brings economic development efforts, businesses, educators, students and parents together across 13 counties will become a model for the nation as the U.S. manufacturing industry moves more toward high-tech job offerings.

The goal is to create what officials are calling a "regional laboratory" that unites all stakeholders and informs them of each others' efforts to create a viable local 21st century workforce.

The initiative consists of 20 chambers of commerce groups along with dozens of businesses, teachers and student ambassadors to facilitate it.

Eventually a website will serve as a virtual portal for everyone in the initiative. That's scheduled to be launched in 2013. For more information, email

"What we're hoping to do is bring into this laboratory educators, which includes administrators and teachers, students and parents, and business leaders to be able to take a look at what we can do collectively to enhance the education system in our region to better prepare our students for 21st-century jobs in the tech and service center," said F. Michael Tucker, CEO of the Center for Economic Growth. "The goal is to use best practices from throughout the region. There's great educational programs going on in each of the 111 school districts and 334 elementary, middle and high schools that exist in the 13 counties. We want to highlight what people are doing that is cutting edge. We want to identify obstacles inhibiting teachers from doing things they know will help students."

Having this pilot initiative in the Capital Region provides excellent access for state Education Department officials, Tucker noted, which could propel it to a statewide and national platform.

"We want to engage the business community to not only support what educators are doing, but develop programs that ensure people are employable once they complete their education," Tucker said.

The CEG has used funding secured through the four Workforce Development Boards in the region for "funding for technical career awareness efforts," Tucker said.

The Amsterdam Workforce Development Board recently secured a $2.9 million U.S. Department of Labor grant for such efforts to be spread across four boards and 11 counties in the area.

"I think it's also important to have the workforce boards, BOCES superintendents, school superintendents, building principals," work together with economic development officials, Tucker said.

"Even though it's a large region and there are many players, over the last three years we have brought together the people who are in this area in a way we think will be engaging," Tucker said.

Tucker complimented Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services, saying that it has made excellent efforts to work with businesses and utilize facilities at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

For instance, students who attend districts within HFM BOCES can participate in a program that includes study units on electrical engineering, the physical universe and kinematics, thermodynamics, fiber communications, nanotechnology, semiconductor basics and wafer manufacturing.

A $626,000 grant from the National Science Foundation makes the project - the Technological Education Pathways Partnership - possible through Fulton-Montgomery Community College and HFM BOCES.

The advisory council for the project includes a nanoscience instructor at the University at Albany, as well as several other field professionals, including officials from GlobalFoundries and General Electric.

Mike Russo, senior manager of government relations at GlobalFoundries works on the company's U.S.-based education initiatives.

"The goal is to define the vision of the future education system, identify roadblocks in achieving that vision and systematically eliminate those roadblocks, ultimately improving the system nationally," Russo said in a news release.

The Manufacturing Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based group - affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers - that works on expanding U.S. manufacturing sent its Senior Vice President for Education and Workforce Brent Weil to Tuesday's event.

CEG administers a forum for regional manufacturers called the Chief Executives Network for Manufacturing.

"We applaud the work and leadership of GlobalFoundries in creating a model that engages all stakeholders to explore ways to use experiential learning in order to innovate and better prepare the workforce of tomorrow. As a leader in advanced manufacturing, GlobalFoundries well understands the workforce needs of our manufacturers today," Weil said in a news release. "Growing our manufacturing sector is a key component in turning around the U.S. economy."

Local spotlight

Patricia Kilburn, Johnstown district director of curriculum and district Superintendent Robert DeLilli attended the launch event and were impressed by the initiative.

"What our goal is, in Johnstown in particular, is to look at enhancing our relationship with GlobalFoundries and their associated businesses, and hopefully enhance the educational opportunities for kids in Johnstown," DeLilli said.

The YEA! program started in Rochester in 2004, and in the program, students actually create their own businesses and pitch their ideas to local investors for seed money.

The students can win scholarships.

Kilburn spearheaded the YEA! program in Johnstown during the 2010-11 school year. The program involves several area businesses that serve as investors in a business idea created by a student. The academy involves real-world education, as Johnstown High School students spent several months preparing presentations about business models for their own products they would want to sell to the community and then answer questions from panelists.

Junior Ellen Praught took her company to a state competition in May. Her company's presentation, "Our Fight," proposes a program for local elementary schools that would encourage students to eat better, exercise more and improve nutrition.

YEA! is offered to the students at no charge, but it does cost money.

"We're slowly working on paying that down. That's why we desperately need the support of the business community. Once we have that paid, we can always be part of the program," Kilburn said.

Classes range from 12 to 15 students, and right now there are eight businesses that will approach the investor panel in March for seed money, Kilburn said.

"We do have business partners in our community who have donated funds and donated their time, which is huge," she said. "It's a bit of a commitment because they have to meet with kids and put time in as part of the panel to listen to their pitch."

As part of the program business leaders also mentor students throughout the year.

"It was a neat thing for us to get a phone call from GlobalFoundries because they're trying to spread the message of how necessary it is for children to learn in a fundamentally different way to prepare them for the future," Kilburn said. "This program puts ownership of learning in the childrens' hands so they're kind of building their own curriculum as they go and that's what we've got to start doing in schools."

DeLilli said the new initiative is huge because it focuses on education from kindergarten to high school. That means students can be introduced to 21st-century-style manufacturing that happens at places like computer chip manufacturing or high-tech battery-making plants.

"In partnering with GlobalFoundries and their associates [it gives them] the ability to open themselves up for visitation to show that manufacturing is indeed alive, but it's not your grandfather's manufacturing anymore. It's clean and advanced," DeLilli said. "It's a different game now, and I think its imperative that not only our high school kids understand that, but that it begins with primary-school-age children," he said. "You're bringing GlobalFoundries, economic development and education all together to start getting real-world application in the class room."

What is Tech Valley?

Those marketing the Capital Region have been using the terms like "Tech Valley" to attract high-tech manufacturing companies to the area since the label was coined by Wally Altes, former head of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce, in 1998.

Over the years that designation came to encompass a broader area, stretching from the Hudson River Valley to the Canadian border and through the Mohawk Valley. It's attracted attention from companies like SEMATECH, IBM and more recently GlobalFoundries in Malta, which all have located operations to the region.

The region's companies and community colleges that epitomize the Tech Valley designation have attracted three visits from President Barack Obama. First to Hudson Valley Community College in 2009, then in 2011 to Schenectady's General Electric plant, and then in May to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany.

UAlbany also got a nod from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney who mentioned it in October's town hall debate.

In 2001 the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany began its NanoTech complex. The state and IBM launched the Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnology at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering the same year. In 2002 SEMATECH opened a $405 million facility at Albany NanoTech.

Today more than 1,000 technology companies are located in Tech Valley, supplying more than 50,000 jobs and $2 billion annual payroll, according to

In 2009, GlobalFoundries broke ground on its $4.2 billion chip fab plant at the sprawling Luther Forest Technology Campus. The same year CSNE at UAlbany expanded with NanoFab East to support a $1 billion in new investments and 600 new jobs by next year. It will be host to nanoelectronics research, development programs, business deployment and commercialization outreach initiatives for international companies.

General Electric opened a battery manufacturing plant on the GE Energy campus in Schenectady. This facility produces "high energy density, sodium-based chemistry batteries for several industries including transportation mining, telecommunications and utility," according to



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