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Nano's seeds planted long ago

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ALBANY -- Billions of dollars invested in research and hundreds of new jobs, so who gets bragging rights for last week's announcement of a major expansion at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering? There are plenty to go around.

"Success has many fathers. I think a founding father of this success happened to be my father," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Times Union by phone.

Two programs initiated by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo helped lay the first foundations of CNSE, according to Vincent Tese, who served as his top economic development aide. First was the Graduate Research Initiative, which paid higher salaries to lure top university faculty to SUNY campuses. One was a young physicist named Alain Kaloyeros, hired by the University at Albany in 1988.

His recruitment included a personal interview with the governor.

The second was the designation of UAlbany as a Center for Advanced Technology in 1993. Mario Cuomo created the program, which offered $1 million a year in state funding to "leverage" research at New York's companies and seven universities in 1983.

"That was the seed capital, and this is exactly what it was intended to do," said Tese, now a bank executive in Florida. "You have to make those early investments, and you have to continue to make them, and you have to develop the relationship with the business community ... I think it's great to see something like this come to fruition, and it's great to see something like this for the state."

Kaloyeros, who is now president of the NanoCollege, told the Times Union in 1993, "We are finally being recognized as a research university instead of a teachers college" and predicted the initial CAT would be a "high-tech magnet for the Capital Region."

Sound familiar? "All of the buzzwords you hear today, they're in the documents from 1988," Andrew Cuomo said. "They knew it was going to take time, so they had a sustained effort. They didn't want a rocket to straight up, straight down."

But Mario Cuomo lost the 1994 election to George Pataki, and the NanoCollege's chief patron became Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. On-stage for the announcement this past Tuesday that five companies would develop the next generation of chip manufacturing at UAlbany, John E. Kelly, Director of IBM Research, said Silver "has been an ongoing supporter of Nano in New York, and was the original investor of seed money when many could not smell nanotech."

Like leaders of the Senate and the governor, the speaker can steer a pot of economic development funding to projects of his choosing. Silver, D-Manhattan, assumed the chamber's top spot in 1994, and soon after invested $5 million in Kaloyeros' research efforts to create the first clean room. There were other investments over the last 15 years, too.

"We took a chance on his vision," Silver said in a speech last week. In a later interview with the Times Union, he said, and "everything took off from there."

Silver was intimately involved in the current deal, which began in June, before Andrew Cuomo had been elected governor. Silver brought Cuomo into the discussions with officials at Intel and IBM, last autumn "when it became apparent" Cuomo would be elected, Silver said.

But Cuomo also said some Pataki also played a part, for continuing state support for the center, including its emergence that year into a full-fledged college and its designation as a Center for Excellence in 2001.

David Catalfamo, a senior vice president at Empire State Development Corporation from 1997 to 2004 and later Pataki's top spokesman said the Republican's emphasis on the center was "consistent, considerable and a matter of record."

Pataki presided over announcements that Tokyo Electron and ASML, and eventually, Sematech, would come to the center. Catalfamo also said Pataki helped keep IBM headquartered in the Hudson Valley, searched for sites for tech companies -- including the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta, now site of the GlobalFoundries chip fab -- and established programs at community colleges to train graduates for high-tech jobs.

"This was a concerted plan. We thought about what the state would need in place to allow this industry to grow here," Catalfamo said.

Tese said he could scarcely imagine the "boom" that has now come. The NanoCollege is projected to add 800 new jobs with the new research consortium, called Global 450, and more research by IBM on better chips.

Kaloyeros said he's happy for all the support the center has received -- from everybody. "Asking if Governors Mario and Andrew Cuomo or Speaker Silver deserve the credit for CNSE's success is like asking who deserves the credit for the child's birth and good health, the grandparents, the father, or the mother?" he said.

"It is not an attempt to bask in the reflective glory of CNSE. Instead, in my view, it is Governor Cuomo's and Speaker Silver's pride of ownership in the child, CNSE, whom they have nurtured, coached, invested in, mentored, and guided."

Reach Vielkind at 454-5081 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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