Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Vision, Ambition & Pragmatism

It's every entrepreneur's fear that one day their business will be obsolete, left behind by advancing technology and surpassed by a rapidly changing world with rapidly changing needs.

But even in the face of a possible high-tech boom just to the south, where Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering is growing, and Malta's Luther Forest Technology Park is trying to entreat Advanced Micro Devices Inc. to build a new factory, businessmen like Mark Miller remain cautiously optimistic about their futures.

Miller, who owns Americlean in South Glens Falls, believes the potential exists for companies in this area to generate more business for themselves by providing services they already offer to high-tech facilities.

Miller himself is doing this now.

Americlean, a commercial and industrial painting and cleaning company, is working on the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering campus.

And while the work Americlean employees are doing is not exactly high-tech, it is pretty important to the overall function of a high-tech facility.

"Americlean's work is centered at NanoFab 300 North, a 250,000-square-foot building that is part of CNSE's Albany NanoTech complex," CNSE Director of Communications Services Stephen Janack explained in an e-mail. "Americlean is pressure washing vaporizers that are used to pump nitrogen into the facility.

"That work is essential in ensuring that there is a consistent and precise flow of nitrogen, which is regarded as one of the important gases used in the process of development and manufacture of computer nanochips."

While Miller is happy to be doing this work, he's not blind to the fact that Americlean will have some updates to make to its service packages if the company is to branch out and do more with computer chip makers in the future.

Miller is particularly aware of this when it comes to clean room maintenance. Clean rooms are very tightly controlled environments in which everything from temperature to employees' clothing is strictly regimented to protect the computer chips being made.

"There's a huge difference in what we do compared to cleaning clean rooms," Miller said. "We have a little training and research to do."

Still, he sees opportunities for Americlean and other local contractors during the development phase of these high-tech facilities.

"That's where a lot of work is going to be for local contractors -- during new construction," Miller said. "For us, for instance, I don't see our company involved much after a facility's complete, unless it's for something like these vaporizers."

The vaporizers are large, external structures on which ice accumulates due to the nitrogen passing through them, which is very cold, Miller said. His job is to remove that ice build-up.

John Aspland, owner of Adirondack Plastics & Recycling in Argyle, agreed that there will be various opportunities for local firms like his to capitalize on the tech trend. But he stressed that changing in order to grasp those opportunities may be a challenging necessity.

Recognizing this, Aspland has been working hard to learn how the plastics and paper recycling business he runs might need to change or evolve in order to accommodate the material recycling needs of the high-tech sector.

That work, however, has not been so fruitful.

"We haven't even been able to get our foot in the door yet," Aspland said. "But eventually, we'll pull through and get to the right guy."

Aspland is banking on the fact that every company generates some kind of waste, but he is also co nfident because he has had to adjust his business plan before.

When medical device manufacturers Tyco and Mallinckrodt closed years ago, Adirondack Plastics faced a troubling outlook.

Aspland recalled that those companies made up more than half his business.

But he managed to push on and re-invent a now-burgeoning company by adapting.

Todd Shimkus, president and CEO of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, agreed that doing research on the computer and nanoscience tech sector is a good idea, especially since the future of local businesses' involvement with high-tech companies is uncertain.

"It's still somewhat unknown, to be honest," Shimkus said. "High-tech companies in Hillsboro are using fewer and fewer local vendors, since they need those vendors that can service all their locations all over the world."

Shimkus was one of about 20 delegates who visited Hillsboro, Ore., this spring to learn how that community has been impacted by explosive growth in the computer chip manufacturing industry.

"But, as Americlean shows, there will be opportunity," Shimkus said. "Mark's instance shows a different side of the situation -- there will be specific plant needs.

"It's kind of like the big box stores. They have enormous, high-quality distribution systems, but when one of their trucks blows its tires out, they're probably going to Warren Tire."

Len Fosbrook, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Warren County, agreed that possibilities exist even though local businesses probably will not be able to provide high-tech companies with the raw materials used to create products or do research.

"The supply chain is a little out of our reach, but there's a wealth of opportunity," he said.

"The obvious thing is construction jobs; that comes first to mind. But the people employed by these industries will also need goods and services, whether it's a restaurant, a laundry or banking."

According to Janack, hundreds of companies provide various kinds of support to just the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

"Americlean is just one of well over 500 local, regional and New York State companies that have provided over $400 million in goods and services at CNSE's Albany NanoTech complex over the past decade," Janack said.

Special thanks to The Post-Star for providing such wonderful coverage of our members in articles such as the one you have just read.

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