Highlights from “The Innovation State: New York’s Future in Advanced Manufacturing” Conference

By Laura Schultz

Over the past year, New York State has celebrated several high-profile economic development investments across the state—most notably, Micron announced a $100 billion investment to build a megafab facility in Clay, NY. But there have been other significant (though lower profile) investments. Wolfspeed, a silicon carbide manufacturer, opened a $1 billion plant in Marcy, NY, that will produce computer chips for the automotive sector. Regeneron, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, unveiled plans for a $1.8 billion expansion of its facilities in Tarrytown, NY. Edwards Vacuum revealed plans for a factory in Genesee County that will build equipment for the semiconductor industries. Siemens Gamesa announced plans to build an offshore wind turbine factory in Coeymans, NY. And, Coca-Cola subsidiary fairlife announced that it will build a new $650 million dairy production facility in Webster, NY.

These investments in the electronics, clean energy, biotech, and agribusiness sectors demonstrate that New York is globally competitive in attracting advanced manufacturing firms and the capital and employment opportunities they bring. These announcements represent the returns on decades of investment in New York’s innovation and manufacturing infrastructure. New York’s Centers of Excellence and Centers for Advanced Technologies have built research infrastructure and supports for companies developing new products and processes in high-value sectors. SUNY and workforce development organizations have developed curricula that prepare employees for jobs in agricultural manufacturing firms, semiconductor fabs, or the construction and maintenance of facilities. Local governments and Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) have worked with communities and utilities to develop manufacturing sites with the infrastructure that can attract manufacturers.

As New York works to expand on its recent success, the Rockefeller Institute of Government, in partnership with the New York State Economic Development Council (NYSEDC) and the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals (NYATEP), convened a meeting of state, local, and industry leaders to explore the future of advanced manufacturing in New York. Together we considered what policies and investments will be required to continue to attract these manufacturers and ensure that the opportunities created are accessible to all New Yorkers. In this blog post, we review some of the key takeaways from this event.

📽 View the Recorded Broadcast

Welcoming Remarks | NYS Assemblymember Harry B. Bronson

Panel 1 | Emerging Trends in Advanced Manufacturing

Panel 2 | Infrastructure for Innovation

Keynote Address | SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr.

Panel 3 | Workforce Development

What is Advanced Manufacturing?

Advanced manufacturing is driven by innovation in both the products it makes and the processes it uses to make them. Examples of advanced manufacturing include the production of semiconductors, medical devices, electric vehicles, batteries, and solar panels, all of which require constant improvements to achieve product advancements and specifications, as well as production efficiency at scale. But advanced manufacturing is not limited to particular sectors or types of technology being produced. Integrating innovative manufacturing processes and technologies into the production itself can be applied to a wide array of products. While certain products may be considered “low-tech”—like food and beverage and pulp and paper—they, too, utilize advanced technologies to continually innovate their production.

To regularly identify and implement new processes that are more effective and efficient, firms are shifting to “Industry 4.0”—the digitization of manufacturing. Moving beyond robotic automation, today’s manufacturing equipment is outfitted with sensors that connect processes and generate real-time analytics. This allows manufacturers to immediately identify quality problems, manage supply chains, find and take advantage of efficiencies, improve worker safety, and specialize products.

Collaboration is Critical

Multiple speakers at the event highlighted that the successful development of an ecosystem that supports these sectors is driven by industry but executed through collaboration. When manufacturers make location decisions they have a number of criteria, but ultimately they are looking for a location where they can build quickly and have access to the resources and supplies they will need with a local labor force that is ready to work. Collaboration between state and local governments, nonprofits, educational institutions, and supply chain providers must be in place to attract promising projects.

The fact is that we at ESD [Empire State Development] we’re talking about everything. Workforce at a very fundamental level, right? Opportunities for disadvantaged populations at a very, very fundamental level. It’s a long game and what’s interesting is … you make investments without a tenant. You’ve got to do it. Because if you don’t make those investments in the workforce, and, frankly, the infrastructure, you’re done.

— ESD Executive Deputy Commissioner Kevin Younis

Speakers discussed how they worked with partners to meet the needs of manufacturers seeking high-quality, reliable energy generated from renewable sources. Economic developers, local policymakers, and utility providers work together to identify the sites that are located close to renewable power generation and supply, in addition to an existing workforce and transportation. Preliminary site assessments can make sure the selected locations minimize potential environmental impacts and that the design enables the most efficient use of resources (i.e., electricity and water) without impact to residents or existing businesses.

Transforming these locations into “shovel-ready sites” requires obtaining property, preparing the land, and constructing utility infrastructure. It can take years to build this capacity, which is a much longer timeline than companies making location decisions are willing to accept. The development of shovel-ready sites requires long-term planning and significant capital investment. Advanced planning by state and local governments in partnership with utility companies can ensure the community is building out capacity of appropriate magnitude while considering the state’s broader climate and energy goals. With investments from New York State, local economic developers and governments are partnering with utility companies to build the infrastructure that will be shovel-ready once tenants make announcements.

Collaboration was also highlighted by panelists as critical for workforce investments. Development of curricula needed by employers for their workforce requires communication between companies and educators. Local companies in need of specific skills can approach area workforce development providers and community colleges to help develop custom programming. While providers can ensure access to students and expertise in curriculum development, speakers noted that programs are often more successful when the partner companies take on a more active role. Companies can provide access to employees who can help develop and present curricula, equipment that students would use in production environments, funding for students in need, and internships or apprenticeships that provide students with hands-on experience.

Firms can also work with local community colleges, workforce development organizations, and school districts to understand the employment opportunities on the horizon and develop area capacity to train future employees. In the North Country, one manufacturing firm secured a major contract that required them to hire 50 flux core welders and they went to the local chamber of commerce looking for assistance in developing a training program. The company and chamber partnered with the local community college to build out the existing welding program to include the specific skills the manufacturer was looking for. Working together to identify the needs of industry, the workforce trainers were able to develop a program that created opportunities for residents.

[We] ultimately developed an overarching, objective approach that has two parts, economic development with corresponding workforce development plus making sure that all of our investment decisions … and our policy decisions are driven through a social, racial justice lens, meaning we need to bring people who have been marginalized into our economy, folks who have been on the economic sidelines for far, far too long.

— NYS Assemblymember Harry Bronson

Equity and Opportunity Through Development

Traditionally, women and people of color have been underrepresented in the advanced manufacturing workforce, exacerbating many of the inequities faced by minority and marginalized groups. Panelists discussed the importance of ensuring these highly paid jobs are made accessible to all New Yorkers to promote economic opportunity and growth. The advantage of developing multifaceted policy designed to build an advanced manufacturing sector in New York is that equity and inclusion can be integrated in the earliest stages. A strategy can be developed that supports economic development with a social and racial justice lens.

New York is home to a number of workforce development providers that can work to connect all New Yorkers with opportunities. This workforce ecosystem includes BOCES programs in high schools, community colleges, workforce training providers, apprenticeship programs, and public and private colleges and universities. These providers play a role in informing potential students about employment opportunities in advanced manufacturing, developing and delivering a curriculum that can prepare students to take on these roles, and connecting them with employers. The ultimate goal of these workforce developers and educators is to work with students from all backgrounds to put them on a path that leads to a living wage.

We’ve got to make sure that as we experience this advanced manufacturing renaissance as a state, that it is a diverse community of New Yorkers who have the full benefit of this renaissance… I think as we look across the country that there is a real fear that advanced manufacturing in general [and] the semiconductor industry in particular often [don’t] reflect the full diversity of our country. We have to make it different here in New York. And that’s going to require intentionality.

— SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr.

Even before students enroll, there needs to be community promotion of opportunities in advance manufacturing directed to underrepresented groups. People don’t necessarily understand what advanced manufacturing is, the range of well-paid job opportunities that are available, and what a career in the sector can mean. Panelists and attendees cited several examples of outreach, including targeted social media campaigns, bringing guest speakers into high school classrooms, summer youth programs, or free back-to-school haircuts where information can be shared, a program that is offered by Onondaga Community College. All of these are targeted at parents and students to get them excited about a career path in advanced manufacturing and connect them with programs that can prepare them.

Once enrolled, speakers noted that institutions must address the barriers students face when working to complete curricula and obtain employment. Enrolling in workforce training programs often means that trainees must forgo other employment, which can be an insurmountable barrier to enrollment. Education institutions can work with employers to provide stipends or scholarships and paid internships. In addition, they may need to provide social supports, such as enrollment in public benefits (SNAP, Medicaid, TANF), or offer gas cards or emergency funds to help students pay for car repairs. Engagement from community partners, in particular potential employers, is critical to the creation of a path from the community to the manufacturing floor.

Programs such as Northland Workforce Training Center in Buffalo have had success in getting their students to complete their program and secure placements with employers. But it is important to know the completion of the program is just the start of their career. Workforce development professionals emphasized the importance of training opportunities being stackable and transferable. This means that the completion of an intensive career training program should be counted toward an associate’s or bachelor’s at a later date so that students can continue to grow their knowledge, skillsets, and career after their first employment placement. Northland partners with SUNY campuses to offer for-credit certificates and associate degrees that can serve as a foundation for additional education in the future. It is also important to explore the retention rates of these graduates. In particular, are companies successful in retaining the underrepresented groups they hire from these programs? And how can they ensure they are a welcoming and supportive work environment for all employees. Tracking the longer-term outcomes for these students could also provide further insights into the career trajectories for people who enter the sector.

Next Steps

Over the past decades, New York State has demonstrated a sustained commitment to attracting advanced manufacturing and smart and sustainable economic development. Policymakers at the state and local level are excited by the sector’s potential to create opportunities for all New Yorkers. With the right policies in place, the State can work to maintain its role as a global leader and ensure that the opportunities created benefit local communities and are equitably distributed. As the industry and policy needs evolve, the Rockefeller Institute will continue to examine how state and local governments can support and benefit from this innovative sector.


Laura Schultz is executive director of research at the Rockefeller Institute of Government