On November 21, 2013, Governor Cuomo announced the state’s commitment of $225 million toward the creation of a clean energy research campus in Buffalo, New York. Referred to as the RiverBend project, the campus is slated for the former Republic Steel brownfield site along the Buffalo River and represents almost a quarter of the governor’s $1 billon pledge for state investment in Buffalo. The RiverBend project will develop high-tech facilities, with state-of-the-art equipment, for use by clean energy firms. The model consists of significant state investment in high-tech equipment and facilities that are in high demand and difficult for firms to acquire on their own. This approach was used in developing the state’s nanoscience research and development facility in the Capital District.
The model can actually be traced to Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, under whom the state underwrote $10 million in construction of a new laboratory in Albany…which was designed to be a shared space for researchers from technology companies. The concept worked, and companies first flocked to the promise of lower research costs on advanced equipment and later to the culture of innovation that developed. About $1.2 billion in state investment, six buildings and more than 3,000 private sector workers later, that model is credited with creating an entire industry out of thin air.”
The presumption is that this same model can be applied to the cleantech field with similar success. In fact, RiverBend is being touted by the governor as a “game-changer” for Western New York.
As part of the rollout, Governor Cuomo announced that two clean energy companies—Soraa and Silevo—have committed to moving to Western New York as the first tenants. Soraa is a California-based high-efficiency LED manufacturer. Silevo is a California-based company that develops and manufactures silicon solar cells and modules. These two companies have pledged to invest $1.5 billion in a venture projected to create 850 jobs at the campus. According to the govenor’s press release, “New York State will invest $225 million in Empire State Development (ESD) capital to establish infrastructure at the site including water, sewer, utility and roads; construct 275,000 square feet of facilities for Soraa and Silevo; and purchase and own equipment. Additional facilities will be built over time to accommodate new manufacturing companies operating in the field of biotech, high tech and green energy.”
RiverBend is part of Governor Cuomo’s efforts to spur economic development in Buffalo. Besides the symbolism of turning a former brownfield site into a cleantech campus, the economic development model seeks to develop a “cluster economy” around the cleantech industry, with interconnected businesses and related institutions, and develop Buffalo as one of the premiere cleantech industry cities.