The Obama Administration recently named the New York Finger Lakes Region as one of the 12 designated Manufacturing Communities, as part of the second phase of the Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) launched last September. Delmonize Smith, Commissioner of the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development for the City of Rochester, the focal point of this region, discusses the manufacturing strengths of the area, and the long-standing impact the funding expects to have on the state of New York's economy.

The City of Rochester represents the 5th poorest city in the United States, and 3rd poorest based on those with similar sizes to it. However, it wasn’t always like this. “Through all of this, Rochester is marked by strong clusters of manufacturing going on around us, something we have really harnessed in and focused on when appealing to the federal government for this funding,” says Smith.
Part of their appeal lies in their history. “Up until the mid 90’s, we had led the state of New York in terms of job creation and other economic measures”, Smith says, but adds, “However, many of our major employers during that time, like Xerox, Kodak, and Bosch & Lomb, experienced significant declines, which unfortunately has led the extreme poverty, amongst many other economic challenges, that we face here in the present.” This funding however, brings a new sense of optimism to an area with a deep manufacturing presence and a current strength in industries considered to be crucial to modern manufacturing.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, attributed the designation of the designation of the Finger Lakes region to their continuous improvement and dedicated focus to key technologies and supply chains, specifically regarding the area’s expertise in and propensity for the production of photonics and optics, as well as precision manufacturing.

With more than 120 photonics manufacturers and more than 500 photonics patents produced last year alone, the greater Rochester region has been bringing life to manufacturing business parks and expanding its workforce, factors that were key in the New York region’s nomination and subsequent selection for the IMCP funding. “Following the lead of our Mayor, Lovely Warren, we have been working hard to enhance the region’s nationally recognized training programs to build a highly skilled, sustainable workforce while also reinventing our area’s supply chain network as to attract new end users to our locally manufactured components, and to linkages that take advantage of strong clusters in precision manufacturing, optics, and photonics.”

Created September of 2013, the IMCP’s program goals are to accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S., attract manufacturing jobs, and create additional investment going forward. The effort both recognizes the importance manufacturing in general, as well as the need to build on the momentum manufacturing has experienced in creating 647,000 jobs since the “Great Recession” of six years ago.

Smith says that the City of Rochester has already received $300,000 in funding from the program, which they have already put to use in the cleaning up of brown field sites around the region. “We already had an application in place to move this forward, but the funding really helped put us over the mark and move the program forward.” Smith said that one of the central parts of the application program for IMCP funding was to list their key strategies they had for improving their community.

So just how exactly does the impoverished greater Rochester region plan to reinvigorate and boost what was once an influential and storied manufacturing community? Listed below are the components of the Greater Rochester/Finger Lakes manufacturing revitalization strategy geared towards flipping the economic switch:

  • Enhancing the region’s nationally recognized training programs to identify and train qualified high school graduates, that can fill middle-skill manufacturing jobs through the Multiple Pathways to Middle Skills Jobs Initiative, the NYS Pathways in technology Early College High School (P-TECH), and development of the Finger Lakes Regional Center for Workforce Development;
  • Reinventing the region’s supply chain networks to attract new end users to the region’s locally manufactured components, and to develop linkages locally that take advantage of the strong industrial clusters in precision manufacturing and optics, photonics, and imaging;
  • Expanding the investments in the region’s world renowned research and innovation programs to foster the creation and growth of early stage companies and promote greater academic-industry partnerships that transform research and innovation into results-oriented processes for manufacturing businesses.
  • Revitalizing and enhancing the Eastman Business Park and developing other “shovel-ready” sites for new and expanding manufacturing business;
  • Expanding international trade and foreign investment opportunities by strengthening global connections through promoting incentives such as the START-UP NY initiative, participating in national and international trade shows, and improving linkages of company marketing and expansion efforts with state resources and globar market data;
  • Identifying and leveraging new sources of capital to spur the development of new businesses and the expansion of existing small businesses through the creation of a business expansion fund, development of the proposed Finger Lake Business Accelerator Cooperative, expanding the Finger Lakes Regional Photonics Cluster Industry Lab, and developing an investment fund which promotes the links between the region’s higher education system and industries exploring emerging markets.

Smith says that while there is much work to still be done in achieving these objectives, the collaborative nature of his region has him quite optimistic. “This whole effort required stakeholder groups to come together from both the private and public sector and put this all together,” he says, adding, “I believe that to be a significant competitive advantage, in terms of how everyone wants to move our region along.”

Because at the end of the day, it’s about improving the lives and infrastructure of an area extremely important to the United States’ identity. “From where I sit, it all leads to the end goal of adding jobs and providing the hard-working individuals that populate our community with meaningful careers,” he says, concluding, “with this IMCP designation, we are now in a great position to get closer to achieving that.”

About the IMCP Program
The Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) program is an initiative designed to revolutionize the way federal agencies leverage economic development funds. It encourages communities to develop comprehensive economic development strategies that will strengthen their competitive edge for attracting global manufacturer and supply chain investments. Through IMCP, the federal government is rewarding best practices – coordinating federal aid to support communities’ strong development plans and synchronizing grant programs across multiple departments and agencies. Non-designated communities nationwide can learn from the best practices employed by these designated communities to strengthen American manufacturing.

About Delmonize Smith
Delmonize “Del” Smith oversees the City’s housing and economic development programs, planning, and zoning activities and building and property code enforcement efforts. He is in charge of directing the neighborhood service centers that, using cross-functional staff teams, work to stabilize and improve the quality of life in city neighborhoods.