ALBANY, N.Y. — The latest plans to transform New York's four public university centers into top national research facilities and high-technology job producers were released Wednesday in a proposal for a "smart energy" research facility at the University at Binghamton.
Already gaining a national reputation in academics and higher visibility in Division I sports, Binghamton University wants to lead research in varied energy areas, including thinner solar panels and phone batteries that never run down.
The $70 million energy research facility would create 150 faculty positions, 175 staff positions and 60 researchers. The economic impact for the Southern Tier was estimated at $77.5 million a year, including 840 permanent jobs on and off campus.
"The plan is truly impressive," Cuomo said Wednesday. He said the overall program will transform university centers at Binghamton, Stony Brook on Long Island, Buffalo and Albany "the spear head of economic development efforts."
"That's where, frankly, other states have beaten us so far," Cuomo said.
Binghamton President Harvey Stenger said at least 10 startup businesses are expected to be created as a result of the center. The plan still needs final approval from Cuomo and the Legislature.
The facility's funding includes a $35 million competitive grant proposed by Cuomo and more than $15 million to be raised by the university center from private funds. The competitive grant consists of $20 million from existing funds in the state Empire State Development Corp., a job growth agency, and $15 million from SUNY's construction fund.
State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, who represents the Binghamton area and helped develop the public-private project, said a "smart energy" research center could eventually support proposed growth in drilling for natural gas in the Southern Tier. The Cuomo administration and the Legislature are now considering whether to approve the process called "hydrofracking" that would be necessary to extract the gas from deep in shale deposits. Environmentalists fear it could threaten water supplies.
Libous said in an interview that it's too early to link the heated issue of hydrofracking with the plans for an energy research facility to open in the fall of 2017.
"Smart energy is going to look at how to capture the unique form of energy in small cells and how to transfer it," Libous said. "But I would think at some point in time, if and when permitting begins, the university would get involved as other universities in Pennsylvania have gotten involved with the hydrofracking issue or drilling issue."
In December, Stony Brook's $35 million competitive grant was approved. The Long Island research center plans a $194 million medical research building working with Long Island-based companies in the field. It promises to create 6,000 new jobs on and off campus.
That month, the state approved the $35 million grant for the state University at Buffalo. The project would relocate the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences from the South Campus on Main Street to a new $375 million building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus near downtown over the next five years.
The University at Albany plan is due to be presented and considered soon.
In addition, Cuomo said the second phase of the competitive grants is now beginning. SUNY's 60 smaller campuses are competing for grants of $5 million to $20 million. The $60 million program is also seeking innovative plans to improve academics and regional economies.