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The highs and lows of high-tech growth
Albany -- Panelists project possible positive and negative effects on the region
By JAMES M. ODATO, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, November 23, 2003


Even if it creates the thousands of well-paying jobs envisioned by promoters, the rise of high-technology businesses in the region won't create an urban utopia as long as the current growth patterns hold, a planner told neighborhood groups Saturday.

The influx of such companies may hasten the deterioration of cities, expand traffic congestion and increase the development of isolated housing communities built around cul-de-sacs, said Todd Fabozzi, a Capital District Regional Planning Commission planner.

His remarks set the tone for an all-day conference of the Neighborhood Resource Center and the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations, which drew approximately 140 people.

Leaders of Albany's 29 neighborhood groups said the session was the biggest of the four such annual conferences run by the hosts.

Past sessions had focused on more-local issues, such as police protection or parking. But with the emergence of high-tech research in the Albany area, residents have begun wondering what the impact will be -- positive, negative or neutral -- on property values, quality of life and the environment.

Promoters of the nanotechnology, biotechnology, biomedical and information technology research expansion in the Capital Region said it will result in many excellent opportunities for Albany.

Projects they referred to include the Sematech consortium of leading semiconductor companies at the University at Albany, the university's Albany NanoTech research partnerships and the newly created Center for Medical Science on New Scotland Avenue.

The immediate benefit will be an infusion of highly educated and wealthy people, as well as young people and foreigners who will turn Albany into a more cosmopolitan city, according to University at Albany President Karen Hitchcock and others on Saturday's panel.

She was joined at Saturday's conference by Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce President Lyn Taylor and Richard Liebich, CEO of Charitable Leadership Foundation, the owner of the medical science center.

However, Fabozzi, of Saratoga Springs, said those attracted to the high-tech jobs here could simply add to sprawl and gridlock if cities aren't able to find incentives to capture the newcomers.

"If you look historically at technology, it's a double-edged sword," he warned. "Keep in mind the negative side."

He said the region has followed a national trend of Americans choosing the suburbs for housing, with retail and corporate building being done at the expense of cities.

The promoters of high-tech research developments said they are nonpolluting businesses that will attract businesses that may indeed build in the suburbs.

The high-tech workers will locate where good K-12 schools are available, they emphasized.

"It's neighborhood associations like this that are going to attract and, more importantly, retain these people," Hitchcock said.

However, some of the residents in the crowd suggested that the incoming businesses need to share resources with the communities, whether its cash or equipment, to improve schools and other institutions.

Hitchcock said university research must be put into service to society. And, she said, businesses she's dealing with intend to be good corporate citizens that consider philanthropy.

"What we're trying to do is tell these people coming to, 'hey, look us over,' " said Gene Solan, chairman of the Neighborhood Resource Center. "We have the amenities. These people could walk to work."

Helen Black, one neighborhood leader, said all of Albany should benefit. "I hope they consider Arbor Hill," she said.

Taylor and Liebich said some of the incoming people will likely favor city centers because they are coming from metropolitan areas. Those young and single will look for high-end apartments near work and night life.