5:06pm

Fri November 4, 2011
New York in the World

5 steps New York must take to compete globally

Last week, when SUNY's Levin Institute released its report about how New York has fared in the globalization era, the results were pretty much what you might expect: downstate has dominated, upstate hasn't kept pace.

The report detailed that between 1970 and 2000 upstate lost half of its manufacturing jobs. But downstate, globalization brought new wealth, especially in the financial services industry, which is now the single biggest contributor to both state and city tax revenues.

That leaves the lingering question of how New York can bridge the gap between the Wall Street haves, and the upstate have-nots.  

In an attempt to bridge that persistent upstate/downstate divide, SUNY hosted its first of six public forums today at its Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, to examine how New York can stay competitive globally.

Here are five solutions offered by three panelists from business and academia.

1. Start our own companies

Panelist Donald Siegel is the dean of the business school at SUNY Albany. He says schools need to do a better job of promoting and teaching students the nuts and bolts of starting a company. He noted that earlier this year, UAlbany created an undergrad minor in entrepreneurship and expanded its graduate programs.

"I know that there's an enormous demand for this," says Siegel. "Seventy-five percent of the students on our campus want at least a course or a program in entrepreneurship. Fifty percent are thinking of starting their own companies."

2. Be more friendly to businesses

The Albany region has been pretty successful luring big companies. The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at UAlbany has attracted hundreds of high-tech companies, and the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant under construction in Saratoga County will bring 1,400 new jobs with it. But all of this business growth cost the state billions of dollars.

Panelist Heather Briccetti is the president of the Business Council of New York State. She says those government incentives were necessary, because the state's business climate is so bad. Other states, and other countries often offer more favorable tax rates, and fewer regulations, while New York has to hand out cash to keep companies around.

"To have to lure a company with a large stateside investment is not ideal. It's not sustainable," she argued. "What we need to do is fix the business climate from the ground up."

3. Find strength in numbers

The report's authors argue that no place has taken better advantage of clustering companies than New York City. The financial services and fashion industries have made the Big Apple their homes. Some upstate cities, like Rochester and Albany have also seen success in clustering technology firms.

Briccetti cited the example of a group of video game companies that have popped up around Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. - once a manufacturing powerhouse - without help from the state. She says we need find and nurture "organic growth."

4. Sell our stuff to the world

Panelist Jonathan Bowles is the director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City-based think tank. He's also one of the authors of the SUNY report, and he believes that more New York companies should be exporting - even small companies should get in the game.

He says globalization has made a lot of people fed up with mass-produced goods.

"In some ways 'localization' is a strategy," says Bowles. "If there are really special New York companies, people elsewhere around the globe actually might want to buy them. So things like Brooklyn Brewery ... there's something special about that, that people want everywhere, and I think there are things like that everywhere in New York State."

5. Take a lesson from higher-ed

Last spring, SUNY released another report, citing its own role in driving the state economy. Briccetti notes that an educated workforce is one of the key pieces to economic growth.

"Representing the companies I do, one of the most common complaints we get is that they have positions but they can't fill them, because they can't find people with the right skill set," she lamented.

This latest SUNY report found that the regions with the greatest intellectual capital were also the most closely linked in with the global economy. The report's authors recommend investing in higher education, particularly in community colleges.