ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Nanotechnology is big in Albany. Buffalo sees glimmers of glory in solar power. Rochester is poised to profit from photonics.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state policy makers looking to revive long-lagging upstate regions are relying on big bets in high-tech sectors. The idea is to marshal big pots of public and private money to create a specialized technology hub.

"It's the economic development equivalent of building a hothouse - intensively aiming all sorts of arc lamps at this plant, feeding it, injecting it with fertilizer," said E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Empire Center.

"Is it speculative? Yes, no question about it. Is it sustainable? We don't know."

The long-term goal is to transform upstate New York regions past their manufacturing heydays. State officials say there are commitments for 19,000 direct jobs and Cuomo says he already sees successes. Some economic analysts say it will take many years to judge how well investments pay off.

Here's a look at some of the big high-tech concentrations around upstate:

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ALBANY

The playbook for New York's high-tech strategy was largely written in the Capital Region.

The sprawling GlobalFoundries chip plant started production north of Albany in Malta in 2012 with help from more than $1.2 billion in state aid. Even before that, a series of governors have nurtured nanotech research centered at the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, now part of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute. "SUNY Poly" and its influential president, Alain Kaloyeros, are spearheading high-tech efforts in other cities.

Today, GlobalFoundries employs about 3,000 people and there are 3,100 private jobs at CNSE Albany, though neither figure includes indirect employment big businesses bring to a region. The Albany area has seen private-sector job growth in the past several years.

Charles Wessner, who teaches global innovation policy at Georgetown University, said the state has been able to attract major players to the region and seed growth thanks to persistent, targeted efforts over decades.

"I think they're like a good sports team," he said. "They work hard, they trained well, they invested wisely and they're lucky."

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BUFFALO

Cuomo's promised investment of a "Buffalo Billion" covers multiple projects designed to revive this old manufacturing hub. A centerpiece is a solar panel manufacturing plant that is supposed to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere when it opens.

New York is spending $750 million on the factory and equipment for California-based SolarCity. In return, the state expects 3,000 jobs and SolarCity is to invest $5 billion.

As in Albany, the strategy is to cultivate a high-tech "cluster" through coordinated investment. Cuomo has cited recent job growth in Buffalo, a perennial economic laggard, as evidence that momentum is already building.

Craig Rogers, associate professor of economics and finance at Canisius College in Buffalo, said in general such job projections tend to be overly optimistic. While he had not analyzed SolarCity's projections, he echoed other economists who are dubious about the ability of governments to pick winning industries.

"I don't want to preach doom and gloom," he said. "I'm just cautious that this type of project would lead to the rebirth of the western New York economy."

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SYRACUSE

Water mains or microchips?

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner last year said that if she had a "Syracuse Billion," most of it would go to replace crumbling water mains - a problem the mayor considers urgent. Cuomo showed little interest. "Show us how you become economically stronger and create jobs," Cuomo told an editorial board with The Post-Standard. "Then you fix your own pipes."

The mayor and the governor illustrated two arguments about the most effective way to spend the finite supply of state cash on an older, cash-strapped city like Syracuse. In other words, is it safer to spend that money on roads and infrastructure?

While analysts like Rogers are unimpressed with the government's ability to pick winners, Wessner argues that governments have successfully provided funding for technologies from the telegraph to the Internet. And he says that regions can change.

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UTICA AND ROCHESTER

If Albany and Buffalo are hothouse flowers, consider Rochester and Utica two shoots.

Vice President Joe Biden flew to Rochester this summer to help Cuomo announce a $610 million research and manufacturing hub dedicated to integrated photonics - the use of light in technology.

Weeks later, Cuomo visited Utica to announce that GE Global Research will be the anchor tenant at the local SUNY Poly facility and that ams AG, an electronic company, will build a new plant nearby.

The concept is similar in both cities. But McMahon notes the history is different in each.

Western New York already has about 100 companies focused on optics and photonics, and Rochester has a long history with related industries going back to Kodak and Bausch and Lomb. That kind of related high-tech history does not exist in Utica, he said.

"The question is: Does some critical mass of people and some agglomeration of tech talent want to be there and do something there?" McMahon said.

 

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Executive Editor