Friday, November 22, 2013

Could Buffalo and Rochester both be solar manufacturing hubs?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 10:58 AM

The state's economic development arm will invest $225 million to build a high-tech and green energy business hub in Buffalo. The money is going toward infrastructure and building construction at a 90-acre site, RiverBend, that is the former home of Republic Steel.

And yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the manufacturing complex's first committed tenants, both based in California: high-efficiency LED light manufacturer Soraa and solar cell maker Sileveo. The companies will invest $1.5 billion and will create a combined total of 850 jobs, says a press release from Cuomo's office.

This is good news for Buffalo. Like every larger city in upstate New York, the Queen City has suffered from industrial decline, so investment and jobs are sorely needed. 

But as a Rochesterian, I'm troubled by the news. I worry that it conflicts with active, ongoing efforts to remake the Eastman Business Park — the former Kodak Park — into a magnet for clean-tech and renewable energy research, commercialization, and manufacturing. On several occasions, Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council leaders have said that the state considers Eastman Business Park to be one of its top economic development priorities.

The two clean-tech/renewable energy companies that'll be part of RiverBend will hardly halt the Eastman Business Park's revitalization. And Soraa's technology isn't necessarily part of Eastman's focus. But Sileveo's solar cell development and manufacturing, at least on the surface, would fit right in with many of the other companies located at the Eastman Business Park.

But there's a regional consideration here, too. Historically, Rochester and Buffalo are directly connected, first by the Erie Canal and later by the Thruway. The Eastman Business Park and RiverBend could theoretically become the anchors of a clean-tech and renewable energy research and manufacturing corridor between the two cities. Such a vision, if executed well, could be greatly beneficial for Western New York and the Finger Lakes region.

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