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Genesee County wants to lure major employer to technology park

Genesee County economic development officials are considering the development of a large-scale advance technology park in one of two locations in a bid to attract a microchip manufacturing plan or other major employer to the largely rural area.

Officials have teamed up with the state, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, utility National Grid, and an industry consulting firm to conduct a master planning and feasibility study, focused on locations near Batavia and in the Town of Alabama.

So far, the effort is in the very early stages, with no guarantee of success. But the county has already raised $175,000 from those sources for the study and secondary costs.

And if the effort works, officials say, the county midway between Buffalo and Rochester could attract big companies that could generate hundreds or thousands of jobs, and a tax base of several hundred million dollars.

"It's a real strategic opportunity, looking at the long-term potential of what we could develop in large scale advance manufacturing and a science and technology park in Western New York," said Steven Hyde, CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center. "It really has the opportunity to redefine the job potential for Western New York as we know it."

The venture is the latest effort by Genesee County, whose prime location between two metropolitan areas has made the Batavia area a growing and attractive community on its own. Officials have already developed multiple corporate parks in recent years, using the county's three exits off the Thruway as an attraction.

In fact, the area, which is considered a micropolitan area by demographers, has twice been rated by Site Selection magazine as No. 1 in the Northeast and No. 5 nationally for economic development project activity in company relocations and expansions.

Officials stressed that the newest review is not a response to an expression of interest by anyone in particular. Rather, Hyde said officials are considering all market opportunities and potential industries, including but not limited to chip-making. They're also examining community issues, the suitability of the land, and local support.

"It's just a general strategic approach we're taking to hopefully someday land a large company," said Steve Griffin, executive vice president of business development for the county agency. "Chip fabrication would be great, but we're not even sure that's what we would go after. It would be a logical company to attract, but we could go after others as well."

And Hyde cited the benefit such a big project would have outside of Genesee County. "There is a demand for large-scale shovel-ready industrial sites available globally, and there is a limited supply of them," he said. "We have the opportunity to develop one of those in Genesee County and this would be an incredible regional asset."

The effort so far is funded by state grants from Republican state Sen. Mary Lou Rath and Sen. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, as well as by contributions from National Grid and the county. Officials are also working with Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, the regional economic development organization for Western New York. "We're all plugged in and working on this from a regional perspective," Hyde said.

The county has hired CH2MHill, a global engineering, consulting and industrial process company, whose site-selection division and separate architectural unit IDC Architects are leading the study. Any project would likely require 10 to 15 years of work, with regional, state and federal support, Hyde said.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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