A Surprising New Tech Center Is Emerging In Upstate New York
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Upstate New York is spawning sizable tech companies, injecting new life into an area that’s long been seen as part of the depressed Rust Belt, albeit boosted by the presence of universities and stellar natural beauty.
I visited Syracuse and Skaneateles, a picturesque lake front town “discovered” when Bill and Hillary Clinton stayed there as she prepared for a run to become New York’s senator. Skaneateles was as you might expect it to be: well-to-do and lovely. The name, pronounced Skinny Atlas, comes from the Haudenosaunee language, I was told, and means “long lake.”
Syracuse, a city of about 150,000, has an incredible industrial history. That history starts with the salt springs that gave rise to its first industry, salt manufacturing, and the city’s presence on the Erie Canal. The region became the home or regional headquarters of industrial giants from Smith-Corona to Carrier, to General Electric, to Skaneateles-based Welch Allyn, a medical device manufacturer.
One of the hidden forces behind the comeback in Upstate New York is the Allyn family, of Welch Allyn. They sold their company in 2015 after 100 years of family ownership. But they are still clearly invested in a multitude of ways. I met husband and wife Eric Allyn and Megan O’Connell, who are investors in Armory Square Ventures. She is the force behind the Salt City Market, a restaurant space for immigrant entrepreneurs that aims to make sure that gains in the entrepreneurship community aren’t limited to the high-tech realm. (It was modeled in part after Minneapolis’ Midtown Market, where immigrant entrepreneurs famously faced down rioters two years ago).
Upstate New York, which includes Albany and Rochester, has also been wooing a chip manufacturer.
I’ve seen communities from the West Coast to the Midwest to Arkansas aim to reinvent themselves through an embrace of venture capital and high-tech startups. That’s an approach that can bring a flood of money but a relatively limited number of jobs. The wiser communities – often those with deep manufacturing histories — understand how important jobs are, too.