Remember Plasmaco? The manufacturer of plasma-display flat screens was supposed to bring an industrial renaissance to the Town of Lloyd? Founded in 1987, the company was bought out by the Japanese tech firm Matsushita only nine years later. Its headquarters at 180 South Street became home to Prism Solar Technologies, Inc., a manufacturer of bifacial glass solar electricity generation modules that has not yet realized the potential that was expected of it.
While Prism still occupies up to a third of the 90,000-square-foot facility, a new tenant moved in on July 26 which brought with it potential ramifications for startup companies in Ulster County and beyond. Formerly situated on Route 300 in the Town of Newburgh, the not-for-profit Hudson Valley Technology Development Center, Inc. (HVTDC) moved its 16-person team (eleven employees and five interns) to the South Street facility, and now rents about 5000 square feet of the space owned by Prism Solar. “It’s mostly offices, but we’ve got enough space to set up our engineering lab,” said Phyllis Levine, HVTDC’s manager for marketing and administration.
That leaves maybe about 60,000 square feet of unoccupied space in the building. Levine explained that a startup company with a new product idea could come to HVTDC and get help in manufacturing and testing a prototype model. It’s not inconceivable that such an enterprise might even rent space there.
HVTDC has been around for more than 25 years, with a mission to foster economic development in the seven-county Hudson Valley region through a variety of consulting services. Two-thirds of its income presently comes from such services, says HVTDC executive director Tom Phillips, and the remaining third from governmental sources.
There has yet been little hoopla about the move to Highland because HVTDC and its partner, the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center at SUNY-New Paltz, were holding off for the official unveiling of the site’s designation as a Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) under the StartUp NY program. What that means is that startup companies interested in taking advantage of HVTDC’s technical consulting services and the cutting-edge 3-D printing technology available through SUNY’s engineering program can seek to qualify for ten-year tax incentives if they relocate to the New Paltz area and commit to job creation here.
The state job-creating program, widely criticized for the paucity of results despite an extravagant and prolonged advertising program, desperately needs success stories. SUNY New Paltz hopes to provide one, and possibly several.
The requirement for Start-Up NY companies to affiliate with a college or university was “one of the main reasons for coming to Highland,” Levine said about HVTDC. HVTDC had already been collaborating with SUNY-New Paltz for a couple of years, with a number of clients particularly interested in applications of 3-D printing technology.
“We have a robust internship program with SUNY-New Paltz,” Levine said. “It started out with engineering, but our goal is to branch out and take students from other majors. We do pay our interns, and they actually work on client projects. It’s a true hands-on experience. And some of them get hired to full-time jobs with our clients, which keeps them in the [Hudson] Valley.”
Designation of the HVTDC/SUNY initiative as a manufacturing extension partnership (MEP) by Start-Up NY came in December of last year, and designation of the 180 South Street facility as a Start-Up NY facility occurred when SUNY-New Paltz’s amended campus plan was approved by Empire State Development in late March. “We had a space deficit on campus, so an opportunity had to be sought off-campus,” explained Richard Winters, community and government relations associate at SUNY-New Paltz. “We found an opportunity to place HVTDC as an anchor in our region.”
Adding the building on South Street to the campus plan’s space inventory was the clincher to the deal. “The opportunity came up for the organization to make the move to Highland. We saw that as a natural move,” said Winters. “It’s only four miles away from campus, so it’s easier for our students to get there. And it’s an opportunity to enhance our collaboration with HVTDC,” which he called “an organization that helps grow companies.”
The collaborative relationship between the college and the not-for-profit consulting firm would have continued regardless of whether or not the Start-Up NY plan was approved or the relocation accomplished. Both parties optimistically herald this new proximity as enabling a closer and more productive affiliation that synergizes the resources that each entity has to offer. “It’s a picture-perfect relationship,” exulted Winters. “We’re really excited about it.”
The interns are from SUNY New Paltz. “Recruiting talented engineering interns from New Paltz benefits the Center and its clients, as well as the students,” said HVTDC executive director Phillips, a member of the SUNY New Paltz School of Science & Engineering advisory board. The organization very recently added a SUNY marketing intern at its new location.
Phillips is pleased with the skills and enthusiasm of the New Paltz engineering and now marketing students. Phillips and Robert Incerto, his senior engineer, both spent decades working for IBM “back in the day.” Passing on their lifetimes of manufacturing knowledge is important to them. Providing an intergenerational knowledge transfer to skilled young people may be essential to the success of advanced manufacturing in a post-industrial era. HVTDC’s Tom Phillips said he thinks the age of long production runs of essentially undifferentiated physical products is gone forever.
New York State sees the new manufacturing as part of the Hudson Valley’s future. HVTDC is cultivating better access to the college’s student talent and resources through its partnership with the campus-based Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center (HVAMC), best known for its expertise in 3D printing. The HVAMC provides prototyping work to many of HVTDC’s clients. HVTDC student interns work directly on client projects with staff guidance, and have gone on to positions within the organization and regional manufacturing and technology firms.
“This is a wonderful opportunity, not only for New Paltz students but also for regional manufacturing and technology companies that will now have access to a local, talented pool of resources, located close to the college and under the supervision of experienced engineering and manufacturing talents at HVTDC,” said Everton Henriques, veteran HVTDC regional innovation specialist and incidentally a former principal of Plasmaco who helped buy the business from IBM.
With the last remnants of IBM fading slowly from the Hudson Valley scene, a new generation is beginning to direct the evolution of manufacturing. It’s difficult to know how important a component of the new economy making things will be, or what characteristics it will have. But it’s likely that building even a modest center of technological excellence around an ambitious and improving public university will prove in retrospect to have been a pretty good bet.
For information about the Start-Up NY Manufacturing Extension Partnership between the Hudson Valley Technology Development Center and SUNY-New Paltz, or about how your startup company can become a client of the program, contact Rich Winters at email@example.com. To view the campus plan, see http://startup.ny.gov/map-school/suny-new-paltz.