A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

ARE WE THE NEW TECH VALLEY? Some Hints & Warnings For Our Future

By Paul Smart

A southern Hudson Valley startup looking to better safety and efficiency in our airline industry, has started focusing its innovations on a new software program that makes renewable energy even more cost-effective than ever, in the hybrid markets many are looking to spur our move away from fossil fuels. A Capital District gaming company has had enough success building platforms and characters that they’re now seeding digital art programs, software art, and exploration from local cultural groups and colleges. Rensselaer Polytechnic, the world’s oldest such institution, has been working with various SUNY campuses pushing forward new nano- and bio-technological, as well as various cyber and digital frontiers. 

A look at state Regional Economical Development funding statewide shows increasing emphases, within the greater Hudson Valley region that reaches up to the Mohawk and historic innovation centers in Schenectady and Troy, shows a concentration of efforts working to provide medical breakthroughs, better agricultural practices, and a heightened recognition of artists role pushing thought into new realms.

From the foundations of the electrical and broadcast worlds at GE laboratories, through the ageless innovations of IBM, to the newer dominance of Global Foundries and its myriad offshoots and feeder companies, alongside our established educational and research institutions, the greater Hudson Valley’s begun to spread a reputation as a new Tech Valley that, like California’s much-touted Silicon Valley, incorporates the sort of Quality of Life attributes (locavore foods, culture, enlivening beverages, plus history and closeness to key urban areas) that augur a long life drawing talent to itself.

How did all this come about, what are our Tech Valley’s foundations, and how will it affect us all as things move forward into uncertain times ahead?

When the Industrial Revolution started drawing the United States from manual labor-based economics towards machine-based manufacturing as a means of defending itself during the War of 1812, its shift from rural to urban quickly moved into the Hudson Valley from neighboring New England. Troy, Beacon, Newburgh, Kingston, Albany, and Hudson became key centers for production of textiles, ironworks, and furniture. Watervliet produced arms for our military, and after completion of the Erie and Champlain canals, Cohoes became one of the world’s key iron manufacturing centers, and eventually home to the world’s largest textile mills. Schenectady was where Thomas Edison moved his General Electric companies, and American Locomotive began making train engines.

By the 1920s, what had started as Computer-Tabulating-Recording Company had renamed itself International Business Machines. By the 1940s much of the company had resettled from the Binghamton area to various locations up and down the Hudson Valley, as well as in New York City. Even after it’s difficult downsizing years in the 1990s, IBM has found ways of sparking internal growth, as well as that for auxiliary start-ups, through mergers and spinoffs from Lexmark and Lenovo, to The Weather Company, Global Foundries, and Watson, as well as big advances in open-source software and new partnerships with all forms of Silicon Valley innovators.

All this while the United States Military Academy at West Point has grown its own research facilities, on campus and elsewhere in the region. And the relics of IBM’s past hegemony, as well as GE’s and so much of the region’s Industrial Revolution past, has been repurposed into new housing and work spaces for artists, entrepreneurs, and mixed-use “iParks,” as some have started calling their innovative approach to seeding new inventiveness.

State REDC development loans and grants have gone to seed a new research institute for brain and body health in Sullivan County, the expansion of a startup medical device manufacturer of prosthetic limbs in Dutchess County, a shifting from electrical into 3D printed systems at Ulster County’s Ametek Rotron, and major new “entrepreneurial hubs” within a larger arts and maker campus in Putnam and Westchester counties.

Behind all this has been a growth in the area’s attraction to not only the nation’s great urban areas filled with young professionals, but many of the best and brightest still in university looking for cool places to start their lives, and maybe act on new business ideas. Plus innovation centers built from past successful startups geared towards shifting the ways business operates, and venture capital picks projects. Not to forget grand adventures in brewing and winemaking, new ag and reviving artisan crafts. And a housing market that’s nowhere near the buy-in costs of the West Coast.

Getting back to where we began, let’s look a bit more closely at CloudVisit and its offer of new aviation maintenance software, which enables remote aircraft inspections (uh oh, re: the aftermath of recent 737 catastrophes) in ways that should inevitably increase such oversight and safety (Yes!). More importantly, the business’ centering in the Hudson Valley has allowed it to reach beyond its original applications to find means of working its software into software programming, video conferencing, telemedicine, and telecommunications. And it’s all based out of Cold Spring, in view of the Hudson Highlands. 

More importantly, CloudVisit is now seeking to harness a growing boom in wind and solar hybrid energy by enabling industry experts with their remote inspection tools, enabling greater growth in the hybrid energy industry to more remote locations. How did this leap of imagination take place? Living in our region rich with opportunity and remote locations, with quality of life allure and a top-notch staff drawn to the Hudson Valley as easily, if not more so, than to any traffic-snarled California Valley or Pacific Northwest island community.

What comes next, you ask? What do we need now, and in the future? How are future challenges coming into view for all of us here where we live? 

For most of us, this looks like a best-of-all-worlds future of ripening ideas, greater access to accommodating startup funds on a par with major cities, and a workforce that’s smart and fun.

Biggest dangers, besides the gentrification that accompanies such changes these days, the way the Industrial Revolution once brought what we now call “Dickensian conditions” in its wake?

Check out the website for Kingston Technology, kingston.com. Note that the massive digital “memory industry” company is now 32 years old (founded just as IBM and the entire Hudson Valley was floundering at its worst). And based in California.

Remember, all things tech now have global reach, and ephemeral establishment. Unless you look where the real work gets done, now and in the future.