STAMP Act II – An Update

In the interest of trying to come to a better understanding of what we believe is a very misguided decision to locate a Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP) in Alabama, New York, out in Genesee County, we hopped in the car for the voyage west to the site. The STAMP here is aimed at generating 10,000 jobs, and will have a completed price tag north of $500 million.  About an hour later (yes, we took the expressways, and it was mid-morning, not rush hour), we arrived. Here’s the site:


Actually, here’s the site, looking southeast:

019 Stitch (1280x349)

Looking northwest:

022 Stitch (1280x358)

And here is Alabama, New York:

018 (1280x960)

Alabama is quite a small hamlet – a few dozen buildings surrounded by farmland. Less than a mile away is the 10,000 acre Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, with its swamps and meadows and woodlands.

The site is within the Genesee County AG-2 district, as designated by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The stated purpose of designated agriculture districts is “to protect and promote the availability of land for farming purposes.” Genesee County names the site as containing “prime” farmland, and much of the site area is within a designated Smart Growth Zone. In New York State, our legislated Smart Growth Policy says this:

 “§ 6-0105. State smart growth public infrastructure policy.

It is the purpose of this article to augment the state’s environmental
policy  by  declaring  a fiscally prudent state policy of maximizing the
social, economic and environmental benefits from  public  infrastructure
development  through  minimizing unnecessary costs of sprawl development
including environmental degradation, disinvestment in urban and suburban
communities and loss of open space induced by sprawl facilitated by  the
funding  or  development  of  new  or expanded transportation, sewer and
waste water treatment, water,  education,  housing  and  other  publicly
supported   infrastructure   inconsistent   with   smart  growth  public
infrastructure criteria.”

The site’s western boundary, literally, is a reservation for the Tonawanda Band of the Seneca Indians.

Further north – about 6 miles – is the village of Medina, population 6,000, and 14 mile to the southeast is Batavia, population 15,000.

So, what did we conclude during our sojourn? Several things.

Alabama has a lot going for it. Designated and protected prime farmland, a Smart Growth Zone, a nearby National Wildlife Refuge, substantial history for Native-Americans, designated and protected wetlands, great opportunities for activities outdoors.

Alabama is not near a major population center, with existing infrastructure, skilled workers, transit, and brownfield sites already prepared for redevelopment. To get to Alabama from Rochester, workers need to plan on a commute by car – no transit is available to the site – of about an hour.

To put a STAMP out in Alabama, with 10,000 workers, is complete madness. Not only would the STAMP violate nearly all of the assets of the place, and would certainly not represent anything approaching Smart Growth, but a STAMP here would mean missing the opportunity to employ new job creation where it is most logical, and will do the most good – the city. We thought it was a bad idea before we went to Alabama. After our visit, we are sure. This is a legacy mistake in the making. Perhaps better, another legacy mistake in the making.

A last note for our non-Rochester readers. In a recent newspaper article here, it was suggested that a model for this Upstate New York STAMP is the Intel Campus in Hillsboro, Oregon. Just to be quite clear, Hillsboro is less than 15 miles from downtown Portland, and that site is served by MAX, the region’s light rail transit system, with trains every 15 minutes.


A good model. Not Alabama, New York, but a good model, and a great argument for putting the STAMP where it belongs – in the city.

10 thoughts on “STAMP Act II – An Update

  1. Your arguments are very rational. Unfortunately, the decisions to locate “economic development” projects such as STAMP often are not truly rational decisions.

  2. Conserving primary resource lands–agriculture, habitat, forests–should take precedent in an area so distant from existing development and infrastructure. Because the conversion, development and operation costs will be so high, the greatest long-term return on investment is to retain these as working resource lands and invest the $500 million where it can more effectively leverage–and be leveraged by–more compatible and existing land uses.

    Viewed simply as a set of investment assumptions–aside from the relevant land use or development policy discussions–and looked at as a basic math and ROI story problem, there’s no way STAMP pencils out in the long term.

  3. Doug, examining the economics of this proposal and its ability to represent a viable investment with an actual positive return to taxpayers and tenants alike is an excellent suggestion. Let me pursue this a bit.

    In the U.S., there are a good number of science and research parks that are and have been quite successful, both as investments by the public, and in creating jobs and income over time – two items that would represent their ability to produce good returns on investment.

    They are in Huntsville, San Diego, Raleigh-Durham and other locations. And in each case – I have looked at dozens – they have two things in common: they are all within 5 or 10 miles of an existing urban center (leveraging, as you say, existing infrastructure and workforces, and avoiding long car-only commutes) and they are all allied with one or more major universities. There is even an Association of University Research Parks.

    If these characteristics are yardsticks of potential success – and I think they most certainly are – then again this STAMP proposal looks pretty awful.

    I sense that on this one our leaders are crossing their fingers and hoping for a miracle – certainly the facts argue against success. I am reminded of an old adage: “If wishes were fishes, we’d all be swimming.”

  4. So, playing devil’s advocate for a moment here, what CAN we deduce about the location? It’s almost exactly halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, and a few miles from Batavia. Perhaps, then, if we don’t narrow our focus to a provincial one, other opportunities arrive. For example, it’s in the perfect location to merge the resources of those areas into a cohesive whole.

    Rochester isn’t the only city in Western NY, but in reading your letter to the editor in the previous post there’s an obvious bias for it. Why can’t Buffalo and Batavia, which are also struggling cities, not get in on the successes such a park would bring? If you put the park in just one of those cities, won’t that have a profoundly negative impact on the others? You point out the benefits of putting the park near Rochester, but are those benefits also not available from the other cities (ok, Batavia doesn’t have a slew of colleges, but still)?

    Also, this has the ancillary benefit of driving housing growth in the surrounding areas, minimizing travel. True, with significant growth, this could end up being the death knell for the other cities, but it’s not like they’re doing much to slow down that death on their own. But, as a positive, if a city does start to take growth here, it could be designed from the ground up to be sustainable as opposed to trying to make Rochester into something it could never be.

    I’ll grant that it’s in direct violation of legislation intended to protect farmland, but if it’s not being used effectively as such what difference does it make? Even if it were successful, how much positive does this small section of farm land provide to the Western NY region in comparison to the economic potential of the park?

  5. Spoonman, thanks for your good comments, and herewith some thoughts.

    First, I believe that the location of this plan, as you say nearly exactly halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, is the compromise that got it passed in the legislature. It’s a very bad reason to build this thing in Alabama, New York, but it is a reason. A Solomon-like solution: split the baby.

    Next, I accept your observation that I am biased towards Rochester. I live here, and I know a little about this place, and I can say with confidence that we have the space, the infrastructure, the workers, the Universities that I think are essential to the success of such a venture, and easy access by a variety of modes of transport. And we already have a strong advanced manufacturing and research component to our business and educational life. If we were to assess the economic benefits of building such a venture here rather than in rural Genesee County, we would win.

    Which is not to say that similar benefits couldn’t be realized in Buffalo, or Syracuse. I will leave it to readers in those cities to make their cases, but I suspect that an argument in favor of either could be made, and with similar successful economic and social benefits.

    And finally, the most important matter in evaluating plans like this: we can no longer afford, in any sense, to continue to build major developments in green fields. I attempt to articulate the long list of reasons why we can no longer behave in this way in every post I write here, and have been writing for the last seven years. The time for this kind of thinking, and doing, is long past. The patterns of regional development we have been pursuing for nearly a century have led us to an urban crisis of multiple dimensions, here and in Anycity, USA. For the sake of our urban future, for the sake of constructing and reconstructing regions which are sustainable (from any of a dozen points of view), equitable, and fit for a useful future, we must make the most, and the best, of what we have, crafting an urbanism that will support us in a rapidly changing world.

    As I said here a month ago, “What changes, you ask? Well here are a few: very soon there will be lots more people, fewer resources and some scarcities, less wealth, our mobility will be different (less actual movement, more movement via technology), there will be fewer cars, energy will be more expensive, the weather will be different, food will be more expensive, and local will make more sense (cost, availability) than trans-national or global. When you ask? Oh, any time now.”

    Anyway, thanks for joining the conversation.

  6. It’s not mere a case of “splitting the baby” in some misguided attempt at fairness. Genesee County Economic Development Center has a registered lobbyist in Albany, Richardson Management. The CEO of Richardson Management is Rick Winter, former chief of staff to State Senator George Maziarz, who at one time represented the 61st Senate District, which just happens to include the Town of Alabama.

    The number of “dumb growth” lobbyists in Albany far outrank the few timid smart growth lobbyists (e.g. Empire State Future). The deck is stacked, the game is rigged. This is not the creative minds of private entrepreneurship selecting the best location for growing their business. This is crony capitalism at its most corrosive and destructive.

    To paraphrase Marcellus’ line in ‘Hamlet’: “There is something rotten in the state of New York.”

  7. As a resident of Oakfield, NY . The adjacent Town & Village which you didn’t mention in your article , I feel compelled to reply . If I was to read your article without knowing anything about this area , I would be led to the assumption that the residents of the Alabama, NY area are inbred hill-billy’s living in shacks with dirt floors , & possessing no skills other than living off of the land !!
    If you had taken the time to visit any of the local establishments & perhaps engage in what we call out here ” conversation” rather than take a country drive & snap some pictures , You would have realized that this is a great community with some of the hardest working people you will ever meet ..
    In regards to your argument that the infrastructure is not in place , you are wrong . The studies are all in place , perhaps you should do some investigative reading .. 2 – 115 Kilo-volt transmission lines in place , within the geographical area to receive reduced power rates .. 2 – more than ample , in fact the study referred to them as redundant , sources of city water , 5 miles north of the I-90 , the rest is obvious .
    Regarding your argument that the park would be an hours drive from Rochester with no mass transit , valid point … But I feel the need to mention that I have been commuting from Oakfield , NY to Tonawanda , NY for the last 9 years .. 46 miles each way , twice a day , 6 days a week .. Do I like it ? NO..
    Will I continue to do it ? Yes ..
    Because you mentioned that there are no skilled workers here in the Alabama area , I’ll discuss what I do for a living .. I run the Electrical department at a large industrial manufacturing facility , I work with voltages up to 37,500 volts , all the way down to milli-volts .. I work on everything from programming robots to routine maintenance on a carbon arc furnace . I maintain every part of that facility from the servers in the office to packaging machines that send finished products out the door . During my career I have worked in Nuclear power plants , computer chip factories , & on the other end of the trade , I’ve worked in the mining industry . My point is that for you to claim there is no skilled labor here is absurd , & it offends me .
    When I chose to move to Oakfield , it was to enjoy nature ,& to get away from life in the suburbs . I worry that this project will deteriorate that country lifestyle that I have become so accustomed to . I don’t want people from the city or their attitudes to ruin what we have out here , but if this project can help bring some jobs to the area , I have to stand in favor of it …

  8. Mr. Williamson, you are a bit too easily offended, and I suggest you read what I wrote again. You seem to be reacting to things that I did not say.

    Some facts you should know: I never said anything about who lived in Alabama, about their class, interests, or even their domestic settings.

    I have in fact visited with folks in Alabama, and I know them to be good and, as you say, hard working. I am not sure why you would conclude that I did not visit with people in Alabama – you are out of order, sir.

    In fact, sir, I have read the infrastructure reports – studies as you describe them – and the installation of necessary infrastructure will be, well, VERY expensive. Overhead wiring notwithstanding.

    As to skilled workers, my impression is that Alabama, NY has fewer skilled workers than, say Rochester. Or Buffalo. Not none, as you suggest I contend.

    If you moved to Oakfield to enjoy nature and avoid city folks, I am completely puzzled why you think this project will be good for your home place.

    Would you like to try again?

  9. Would I like to try again ? You speak as if you have defeated me in some sort of competition . Without knowing me personally or intellectually , I must ask that you refrain from guessing how easily I am offended .
    Now , to the facts that you speak of : “Some facts you should know: I never said anything about who lived in Alabama “…
    Yet you write in your initial publication:
    “Alabama is not near a major population center, with existing infrastructure, skilled workers,”
    That Sir seems directed squarely at the hard working folks in Alabama ..
    If in fact you did do your job and interview any of the residents , why was that not included in your report ?
    The cost of infrastructure is going to be costly regardless of location , & population would dictate that Rochester & Buffalo would have a larger workforce to pool resources from, this is obvious ..
    My reasons for staying in Oakfield , & why I stand in favor of this project are simple , While it’s not necessarily what I had in mind for myself , I do believe it will help my community , & possibly give some of our children the ability to find work closer to home .
    Regardless of where this project ends up , the bottom line is that we need to bring some jobs back to NY ..

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