Utility companies in the US are going beyond their role as energy suppliers and are assisting manufacturers in their site selection needs. Working with local and state economic development agencies, utility executives are particularly well placed to keep track of project opportunities within their service areas, which frequently cross state lines. Although the US utility industry has undergone great changes over the past few years, and many have consolidated, sold off pieces of their business, closed shop or branched out into other industry groups, firms can still turn to electricity companies for advice.

Niagara Mohawk plans to draw more high-tech manufacturers to New York state.

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Branding its upstate New York service area the Technology Crossroads, Niagara Mohawk – a National Grid company – is working with state, regional and local allies to undertake a major business recruitment initiative targeted at semiconductor manufacturing sectors.

Its first success, International Sematech (a group of 12 major computer-chip makers) is locating its 300-millimetre computer chip R&D programme at the Albany Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics. Named International Sematech North, the project is a consortium of the University at Albany-SUNY and International Sematech. While it took nearly seven years to land the project, executives believe it has far reaching, long-term implications for Niagara Mohawk and the upstate New York economy.

Cost competitive sites

“We are demonstrating to the semiconductor manufacturing industry that we are cost competitive and can provide shovel-ready sites that meet their specifications,” says Marilyn Higgins, Niagara Mohawk vice-president of economic & community development.

In addition, Niagara Mohawk is helping to promote Luther Forest Technology Campus, a project considered prime for semiconductor activity. The campus encompasses 1550-plus acres in three counties and could house up to four computer-chip manufacturing plants.

Niagara Mohawk offers a host of incentives and programmes to companies locating in its service areas. Its Capital Investment Incentive programme provides grants of up to $250,000 to fund electric and natural gas improvements. Its Industrial Building Assistance programme offers up to $50,000 to building owners who retrofit interior electric and gas infrastructures to convert buildings to multi-tenant industrial use. The Brownfield Redevelopment programme funds utility-related infrastructure improvements and other necessary costs associated with the redevelopment of a brownfield site or vacant building. And its branded ShovelReady programme assists businesses in finding available land and building space and redeveloping brownfield sites.

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Niagara Mohawk also sponsors so-called boot camps for economic development. Here, consultants review proposals and offer advice on how to win new business. Its virtual building software allows prospects to incorporate all drawing and engineering requirements and obtain necessary approvals in advance. “The goal is to shorten the permitting and approval process,” Ms Higgins explains.

 

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