BY KATHY KAHN
California-based Industrial Realty Group may become the new owner of 200 acres of Pfizer’s 500-acre campus if Rockland’s small villages and towns-and START UP NEW YORK—work together to bring the company’s plans to fruition and give them the go-ahead on its plans to come to the mid-Hudson. IRG is in negotiation for the Pfizer property for an undisclosed sum but plans to make use of the property for a semi-conductor facility and to build an Innovation Center in tandem with Rockland Community College and SUNY Stony Brook.
Dr. Cliff Wood, president of RCC and stalwart business proponent, told Rockland Business Assn. members May 21 IRG is in the process of acquiring the property as it wends its way through New York’s “home rule” regulations—which can be cumbersome and costly for incoming business, as well as businesses that already make their home in the Empire State.
Pfizer bought Wyeth’s property six years ago, revamping the campus and its mission, downsizing over 3,000 positions, either through attrition or by relocation and “rightsizing” its staff to 1,300 employees. Pfizer still has a significant presence at the site, but much of the property remains dormant. Anellotech is one of the companies that will soon be expanding its R&D facility at Pfizer’s campus—and if the new purchase IRG is negotiating with the pharma giant goes through, it will be yet another step in rebuilding the site into a thriving high-end pharma/semiconductor center for the mid-Hudson.
At the RBA’s luncheon at Nyack Seaport, Dr. Wood explained how IRG plans to build a relationship with Rockland Community College through the Start Up New York (SUNY) program, helping to create paid internships for students in addition to helping create programs on the college campus that will teach students the skills needed to fill its high-tech needs.
Wood also emphasized the pitfalls companies face when coming to the Empire State: “When an international corporation came to New York a few years ago and wanted to build a semiconductor factory in Saratoga County a few years ago, people laughed and said it wouldn’t last.”
The company he was talking about is GlobalFoundries, which has revitalized the Town of Malta and the surrounding communities, breathing new life into the dormant county where many homes and businesses were shuttered. Nobody’s laughing now, as GlobalFoundries is planning yet another expansion on its Malta campus in Luther Forest and is more than 3,000-employees strong—and growing.
“GlobalFoundries built ‘clean rooms’ on three SUNY campuses so students could learn how to work in that atmosphere, and they are creating paid internships at the main headquarters for students of those colleges,” continued Wood. “This is the kind of company Rockland needs to help bring and build jobs for our community and for our students. This is the kind of company IRG wants to bring.
“We have a highly skilled workforce living here and great universities that need opportunities for students, and we have students who want to learn how to work in these industries, because that’s where the jobs are. These positions start at $60,000 a year and up with just a two-year degree. That is what a relationship between RCC and IRG can mean to Rockland—if ‘home rule’ does not interfere with the sale and the partnership through START UP NEW YORK and force them to drop out of negotiations.”
Sixty of the 82 SUNY campuses have been approved to become START UP NY sites, and RCC is one of them. “One company Rockland was courting could not deal with New York’s politics, so they quit—we lost another company to New Jersey,” said Wood. “It takes a while to work with a bureaucracy and many of these out-of-state companies are taken aback by New York’s ‘home rule’ rules. They are cumbersome and can often make it a daunting task to try to work within the boundaries. Our Rockland Economic Development Corporation and Industrial Development Corporation is working with them, as is the RBA and our officials. If we can get local governments to work together, these companies will come and provide livable wages, reasonable benefits and give our communities the jobs our residents and students need to be able to live and work here. Rockland is a great location, accessible to the metro area, New Jersey and Connecticut.”
IRG plans a bio-tech Innovation Center for the Pfizer campus, one which Wood, the Rockland Economic Development Corporation and Rockland County Executive Ed Day are rooting for—and asking for the county’s cooperation in making this happen, said Wood. SUNY Stony Brook would also be involved in the creation of the Innovation Center. “SUNY Stony Brook already has three Innovation Centers on campus and planning yet another, and they will come and help build this one,” said Wood.
Why are so many people disgruntled by the START UP NEW YORK program, asked RBA members. Wood’s answer was simple and to the point: “This is not ‘giving away the store’ as many think of it. It may take a company five years just to see a profit. Taxes would more than likely kill its success before it even got off the ground. The many plusses are that these start-ups and relocating companies are mandated to offer paid internships; these new companies start to pay some taxes after five years until they are eventually paying full taxes in ten years…they are also going to stay in New York or face a penalty. Look at the success the Empire Zone program brought us—even with its problems, it was a great success, although many scorned it at the outset…overall, it was a great boost to New York’s economy and one the REDC will promote for our region.”
Privately-held IRG, working on its sale-leaseback proposal with Rockland, has a presence in more than half the states in the U.S. with over 150 major projects going on providing stability to the U.S. workforce. If all goes well, SUNY RCC will soon be shaking hands on the IRG project planned for the mid-Hudson.
Even if not on the scale of a GlobalFoundries, IRG and its plans for a presence in Rockland would be more than welcome—despite pundits’ hoopla that things are on the “upswing” on this side of the Tappan Zee.