High-Tech Hudson Valley

Solar energy and biotechnology establish strong foothold




 Photo courtesy of Thinkstock Images

Technology plays an integral role in the personal and professional lives of Orange County’s 380,000 residents. Whether for entertainment, medicine, communications, energy or scores of other commercial ventures, the availability of new technologies is on a par with the nation’s most sophisticated neighborhoods.

And two important industrial segments – solar energy and biotechnology – have been mounting serious campaigns to position the Hudson Valley as the “new capital” of those businesses.

Fortunately, there’s an abundance of highly educated workers available to fill most positions in just about all of the hightech industries establishing operations here. Many of these workers have ties to IBM, which, two decades ago, employed more than 20,000 in the Hudson Valley. Large-scale consolidation has taken place in recent years, but the region is still home to a substantial number of current and ex- IBM employees.

A significant portion of that workforce is already involved in the solar and biotech businesses, while others have launched a variety of their own entrepreneurial ventures in the technology sector.

New York Biohud Valley

Replete with its own logo, lofty ambitions, and strong backing from local politicos and the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, New York BioHud Valley hopes to convince existing and startup biotech companies to put down a footprint in the Hudson Valley. The expectation is that the area can one day grow into something akin to California’s Silicon Valley.

While Westchester County currently claims the lion’s share of the biotech companies that are already in business, startups are said to be looking north to counties like Orange as a potential site for new facilities or expanded operations.

New York Sen. Kristin Gillibrand says biotech development is vital to “the future of our economy.” She notes that the entire region is home to world-class research institutions, medical centers and laboratories, as well as an educated workforce.

The Heat Is On Solar

No question, solar energy is on the tip ofeveryone’s tongue, whether it’s a positive endorsement by President Barack Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address or a recent spate of encouraging signals from the U.S. military about its intentions to ratchet up the use of green energy.

At the forefront of the local effort is The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC), a Hudson Valley not-for-profit organization whose goal is to help expedite the adoption of solar energy and create an R&D and manufacturing cluster in the area. TSEC, which was formed in 2007, has already forged strategicalliances with some 70 companies and academic partnerships with four universities.

TSEC has IBM to thank for that, says the organization’s President and CEO Carl Meyer. “IBM spawned a hotbed of technological entrepreneurs,” he says. Despite the global economic slump, “we’re more than holding our own because the talent is here.” Sounding much like an economic development executive touting a county’s selling points, Meyer singles out Orange County for its “tremendous transportation system.” Orange’s proximity to New York City and “a reasonable commute” is “a huge plus,” Meyer says, particularly to foreign companies wishing to build a U.S. presence and demanding access to Wall Street.

You Say You Want A Revolution

Of all the technology-oriented activities developing in the Hudson Valley today, perhaps none holds as much promise for the nation’s long-term prospects than the events unfolding in Montgomery. That’s where Taylor Biomass Energy is building a $100 million facility that’s going to turn certain types of waste products into energy via a patented gasification process. The “Taylor Energy Solution” is a multi-part process in which mixed solid waste is sorted, undergoes a gasification process and then is converted to a fuel that then produces power. Jim Taylor, inventor of the process, was born and bred in Orange County and is the third generation owner of the privately held company that began its life as a tree removal operation.

Construction could be hindered if proposed cuts to the national budget results in the loss of U.S. Department of Energy loans for the project, but based on current plans, it is estimated that the plant will produce in excess of 20 megawatts of power, enough electricity for 27,000 homes.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who, along with U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, championed Taylor’s federal fund-raising efforts in Washington, said at the plant’s groundbreaking in December 2010, “It’s rare to witness a revolution, but that’s what the project we are breaking ground on represents.” He continued, “Generating energy while reducing trash and producing no pollution is an absolute game changer for this country.”

Stewart International Airport has already signed on as a customer when the facility is operational.

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