September 17, 2007

The Future Is Now

By: by Times Union


Remember the date: Sept. 19, 2007. That's the day when the Capital Region prepares to meet its future. Remember the occasion: A groundbreaking session of The Tech Valley Civic Forum for invited leaders from business, government, education and the nonprofit sector at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. There, they will assess the promises of a growing nanotech economy, and the possible pitfalls. And they will map a course to pursue the former while avoiding the latter.

The signs of a coming economic boom have been apparent for some time now -- at UAlbany's growing nanotech research and development complex on Fuller Road; at the Watervliet Arsenal; at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's technology park in North Greenbush; and the new Tech Valley High School that opened last week, ready to prepare Capital Region students for tomorrow's careers in science and technology. But these are the head winds. The full gale force of a nanotech economic boom won't be felt until all major sectors are in place, including a microchip fabrication plant in Saratoga County's Luther Forest.

That means there is still time for the Capital Region to benefit from the tech boom rather than being overrun by it. And there's a blueprint for careful planning -- the eye-opening report, "High-Tech Growth and Community Well-Being: Lessons Learned from Austin," written by Judith Saidel, executive director of the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, and Teri Bordenave, president and chief executive officer of Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region.

The authors, who visited Austin, Texas, and met with local leaders, found that the boom times often bypassed whole segments of the city's population. The public schools seemed to be caught off guard, with many students enrolled in courses that failed to prepare them for the high-tech jobs around them. And longtime supporters of nonprofit agencies were often taken for granted, while newcomers willing to write big checks were assiduously courted. But when the tech bubble burst, the big checks were harder to come by and the neglected supporters were nowhere to be found, leaving a crucial safety net of social services at risk.

Ms. Saidel, who is a driving force behind the Tech Valley Civic Forum, likens Austin to a community divided by a major highway -- one side lined with the markings of prosperity, the other showing signs of neglect. The Capital Region must avoid such a divide.

The forum will be more than just talk. A preliminary strategy, the Forum Action Plan, is scheduled to be in place by next spring, and its success will be monitored into 2009, when the Tech Valley Civic Forum II will conclude the planning process.

In other words, actions will follow words. And none too soon.

THE ISSUE: A civic forum will map plans for the area's high-tech boom.

THE STAKES: The goal must be to meet the needs of all sectors of the community.