With a long, impressive history of innovation — architectural footprints of manufacturing and technology giants still mark the landscape in Broome County — a coordinated effort across local education, business and government entities has brought new energy to the region’s resurgence.
In October, Binghamton University’s New Energy New York project was designated America’s Tech Hub for battery innovation, a boost the project’s leaders and local elected officials in the Southern Tier believe will help draw companies to the region and expand the operations of the ones who have already set up shop here.
Besides qualifying to compete for a chunk of $500 million in federal grant funding, the distinction also shines a light on the emerging battery technology industry in Binghamton and how the confluence of forces behind it could shape the area’s future.
How Binghamton earned a ‘tech hub’ designation
Last fall, Binghamton’s New Energy New York project was awarded nearly $114 million in federal and state grants through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Another $3 million was awarded through the Appalachian Regional Commission in September, and Binghamton is currently competing for an additional $160 million from the National Science Foundation’s Regional “Innovation Engines” Competition.
This latest win, the tech hub designation, brings the Binghamton project a step closer to its goal: to create a globally competitive manufacturing hub for batteries.
But it hasn’t happened in a vacuum.
“The most exciting aspect of our New Energy New York initiative is seeing academic, government and industry coming together to work towards the betterment of the entire region and beyond,” said Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger. “Building and rebuilding economic vitality and security that puts the United States back at the top of global competitiveness is an all-out effort, and that is what has been most gratifying with this NENY initiative — seeing everyone work towards the same goal.”
NENY Regional Innovation Officer Per Stromhaug said there are several factors marking Broome County as the epicenter of this initiative.
Nobel Prize winner and Distinguished Professor Stanley Whittingham put Binghamton University at the forefront of lithium-ion battery technology. Battery manufacturing facilities have emerged, including the Imperium3 New York Inc. (iM3NY) Gigafactory in Endicott and others planned for the future.
NENY coalition partners include multiple universities, unions, local economic development and government agencies, and a variety of other organizations. The wide spread of partners, project leaders believe, ensures all parts of the region are represented and will share the benefits the tech hub designation will bring in over it’s 10-year span.
“It is really an acknowledgement that this region, out of all the United States, has the capacity to become the national hub for batteries,” said Stromhaug. “When you think about how important batteries are, and how important they are going to be for the future, it’s huge.”
Binghamton University innovation on and off campus
According to Stromhaug, bolstering the area’s investment in battery innovation will have tangible benefits for Binghamton University students on campus and off.
“One of the goals of building this manufacturing and development innovation ecosystem is of course to recruit more companies to set up and scale up in the region,” said Stromhaug. “That should have a tremendous benefit for students, with increased internships, practical learning experiences, jobs opportunities and an overall improved economy in the region.”
NENY Deputy Regional Innovation Officer Olga Petrova said the Binghamton project’s goals, in addition to supporting innovation, manufacturing and supply chain development, include a focus on workforce development, equity and justice.
The workforce development component of the program, Petrova said, span all levels of education, and will provide support to students from underserved communities.
Putting the ‘tech hub’ name into action in NY’s Southern Tier
Stacey Duncan, chief executive officer of the Agency, said the tech hub designation will help shine a spotlight on the innovative projects battery companies in the Southern Tier have been working on already, as well as further new and existing projects going forward.
“I am thrilled about the opportunity that the tech hub designation is going to bring for stronger academic and industry partnerships and more funding for the technologies that some of our companies are already utilizing in battery innovation,” said Duncan. “I think it is going to really help this entire ecosystem explode in the next decade.”
In October, the Agency purchased three parcels of land in the Town of Union and Town of Maine, which it plans to use as the site for a new development park focused on technology. Duncan said the tech hub designation will help draw companies to the area due to the work already being done, and the opportunities the tech hub designation creates.
It also validates all of the hard work done by the coalition, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said, and puts Broome County on the map as the core of battery production and innovation in the country.
“I think we are definitely positioning ourselves as the leader in the United States for an industry that is absolutely expanding,” said Garnar. “We have really positioned ourselves well for more jobs here, but also more investment into the community.”
City of Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham said the city’s office of economic development has been actively working alongside NENY to identify potential investments in the city, mainly centered around the Charles Street Business Park and the Clinton Street Commercial Corridor.
Kraham said the tech hub designation could spark investments in development and manufacturing which will help further revitalization efforts in the city.
“Manufacturing as the basis for revitalization is something that needs to be at the top of everyone’s mind,” said Kraham. “Every manufacturing job which is created creates ancillary economic development. The people who work in these factories have to go to lunch somewhere. The businesses need logistics, the support of trucking companies, material suppliers and maintenance people. The economic impacts are far and wide.”