N.Y Capital Region

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2002-11-11 Print this article Print

N.Y Capital Region

New York was a tech center long before the dot-com boom—think IBM, Eastman-Kodak Co., Bausch & Lomb Inc. and Corning Inc.—and that tradition hasnt faltered. As New York State CIO James Dillon likes to point out, the state ranked fourth in the nation in 1999 for attracting venture capital - a total of $2.2 billion—and third for research and development spending by industry, at $14.1 billion.

Three years later, bolstered by state financial support, the growth of tech business—and IT jobs—is strong, particularly in the so-called Capital Region of upstate New York, a seven-county area that encompasses Albany, Troy and other cities. According to BLS figures, the region has added 3,200 nonfarm and private-sector jobs since September, holding its unemployment rate to a low 3.4 percent.

The venture capital flow and government support were key to persuading Clint Ballinger, CEO of biomedical startup Evident Technologies Inc., to open up shop about one and a half months ago in Troy.

"State financial support is a big thing," Ballinger said. "Also, theres a lot of access to angel investors. Theres economic development people around willing to lend a hand for free—everything from things like help with setting up a Blue Cross policy to free help writing business plans. Theres a lot of support for high-tech companies now. I feel like a celebrity. Everybody likes us."

That fondness eventually will trickle down to the IT job market. Ballinger expects that Evident—a nanotechnology manufacturing and application company that draws on semiconductor technologies to develop products in the fields of biotechnology, optical switching, computing, telecommunications and energy—will add 200 employees to its Troy facility during the next five years.

Like many of the thriving companies interviewed for this package, Evidents future IT hiring needs will be for bioinformatics skills. Heres a sample application of such skills: One Evident researcher is now combing through key DNA sequences, a computing-intensive project for which hes written his own data mining scripts. Eventually, said Ballinger, those scripts will need to be run on large, parallel processing servers. And thats where hell need some mainstream IT skills. Although bioinformatics often constitutes rarefied skills, in Evidents case, Ballinger would be happy to take on IT workers with straight computer science degrees whove done work with high-speed parallel computing.

"One of these days, hopefully soon, well need horsepower around the high-speed data mining and processing around the human genome to help [us] figure out sequences to determine West Nile [virus], smallpox, TB, things like that," Ballinger said.

Beyond that, Evident, like most new companies, will need help getting networked. As it is, the young company is already what Ballinger calls a "far-flung empire," with three labs—in Watervliet, N.Y.; Siena College, in Loudonville, N.Y.; and Troy—that need to be hooked together.

In exchange for networking help, Evident is providing free office space to two IT contractors, who are in the process of starting up a network administration company. Eventually, of course, the company will take on in-house IT workers. "Well need in-house people to help with software management, all the other stuff," said Ballinger.

Where will Evident find the tech skills it will need? The company will likely turn to upstate New Yorks top-notch tech education institutions, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York at Albany and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Those institutions are also part of why Sematech—a consortium of 12 semiconductor companies from seven countries now housed in Austin, Texas—soon will be opening its newest program in Albany, once the contract has been signed, probably by years end, according to a Sematech spokeswoman.

Experts say the potential of job growth from Sematechs new program cant be overestimated. Dillon, the state CIO, has been eyeballing Sematechs current Austin location to get an idea of what to anticipate in his own backyard.

"Early on, its going to be 25 research scientists and seven support staff," said Dillon, in Albany. "That will grow to 500 in a year or two. In Austin, at a later date, you got economic development and spinoff companies growing from the original Sematech effort. It took a period of years, but the [current] employment figures are in the 100,000-plus range in the high-tech arena in Austin. It turned from a place governed by government and education into a high-tech hub. We strongly believe the same growth can happen here."

Edward Moran, director of Deloitte & Touche LLPs Technology, Media & Telecommunications Groups Tri-State Product Innovation Practice, in New York City, said the biggest challenge will be training potential employees fast enough.

IBM has already put substantial funding into a new nanotechnology center at SUNY Albany, but the people qualified to run the million-dollar equipment needed there just arent around yet. "Machines are sitting idle," said Moran, who is also director in charge of the consultancys New York Fast 50 annual regional list of fast- growing companies. "Where are the technicians? I hear, We have one, and he or she is at lunch. Thats an opportunity for job growth. People with a technical bent should strike out for Albany and be part of that."

For readers yearning for a New York job, check out www.hightechNY.com, where one of more than 4,300 job openings might satisfy.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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