Future Shock: Creating the next generation of education technologists in the ‘Valley of Opportunity’
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”
Nestled in the river valley and confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers, Binghamton became the industrial and cultural center of the Southern tier of New York bounded by Pennsylvania.
Advantageously, Binghamton stood at the crossroads of both rail and roadway infrastructure—key drivers of indigenous commerce and industry of Southern New York.
In its early days, Binghamton distinguished itself for its prolific industrial production of cigars, Endicott Johnson shoes, and other consumer products.
During the Cold War era, IBM grew its global market presence—and at the same time, the national defense industry fueled the growth of General Electric and Lockheed Martin. Together, these Fortune 500 companies created thousands of jobs in the industry, science, engineering, and information technology.
Through good times and bad, Binghamton had a favorable balance of trade when it came to workforce development—that is, more jobs than qualified skilled workers.
It is somewhat ironic that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported that even today, there is still a subsisting skills gap facing Broome County and the Southern Tier.
Heading into 2020, Binghamton has reinvented itself as New York’s “newest College Town.”
Whether cycling on campus or strolling the riverwalk downtown, visitors are drawn to the higher learning rhythm and vibe of a college town. This college town bounce did not happen by accident. Binghamton University and Broome Community College created an educational and cultural tourism Renaissance downtown as part of Binghamton’s emergent Creative Economy.
Just consider the history of the Binghamton University and Broome Institute of Technology and the context of contemporary college towns.
In partnership with Boston University, Broome can fill the new pipeline of STEAM workers—students who have deployed fine, visual and performing arts to acquire skills within the sciences, technologies, engineering and mathematics. Already, Broome has positioned itself to become a virtual reality center of excellence—showcasing state-of-the-art virtual reality education technologies.
By way of illustrative example, BU and Broome can take pride in the new Koffman Southern Tier High Technology Incubator situated in downtown Binghamton. This first of its kind economic incubator provides highly attractive entrepreneurial start-up space within a larger business start-up ecosystem.
These entrepreneurial start-ups will create sustainable high paying, high tech jobs in a broad range of industries including healthcare, engineering, transportation and logistics, information technologies, optics and—over the long run—spinning off other campus-based and downtown research and development capacity to host future product roll-outs and clinical trials.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, presiding over the grand opening, proclaimed that the new incubator would be a “game-changer for Broome County and communities throughout the region by providing endless research and development opportunities… while creating an environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.”
The new incubator is projected to generate initially more than 6 million dollars annually in local economic impact; support 12 companies; and focus on research and development in energy, microelectronics, and healthcare. The new 35,000 square foot facility will have wet and dry labs, and even a hospital smart simulation lab and support in such areas as energy, electronics, lean manufacturing, packaging, and health care. Over the next decade, the incubator is projected to also create hundreds of new jobs in construction technology and other growth industries.
“For nearly 15 years, our Entrepreneurship Assistance Center has helped locals achieve their dream of starting a business,” said Broome President Kevin Drumm. “These businesses continue to grow, not only increasing revenue year after year, but also adding employees. The Center not only transforms individuals’ lives but truly helps facilitate the region’s economic growth…. This will help our current students as well as students from other colleges. You never know where the next great idea is going to come from.”
Toward this end, SUNY Broome has already been awarded $6 million in 2020 funding to help create the new collaboration lab (named the co-lab space) best equipped to inspire innovative brainstorming, collaboration and the launch of outcome-oriented projects and services. In this way, Co-lab is endorsed by the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council and is connected to the Governor’s Innovations Hotspot initiative. These businesses are eligible for exemption from all state taxes as an economic incentive provided by the State of New York. Overall, these several initiatives are expected to have an economic impact of $132 million creating 906 jobs over 9 years.
Looking back, these achievements are à propos, since Binghamton was the site of the first aviation simulator, and today has become the progenitor of Virtual Reality teaching, learning and research in the new Southern New York economy.
James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance and senior partner in the law firm of Samels Associates, Attorneys at Law.