Gillibrand: Upstate has 'booming' tech potential

By Lorne Fultonberg

April 15, 2013 Updated Apr 16, 2013 at 10:58 AM EDT

Lansing (WBNG Binghamton) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wants the federal government to tap into upstate New York's small businesses to help increase the country's exports.

Gillibrand and Karen Gordon Mills, administrator of the Small Business Administration, toured the BinOptics facility Monday and led a roundtable discussion for local small business owners and government officials. The focus: How to further help upstate industry.

"All of the ingredients are in this area around Ithaca," Mills said. "The university research, the entrepreneurial spirit, the low cost. We just need to add more secret sauce like access to capital and networks."

Mills says the federal government wants to double its exports in the next five years and that the upstate economies could be key to reaching that goal. It's the kind of place the government wants to invest its money -- someplace that has all the parts already in place and just needs grant money to catalyze it.

"This would be a perfect area because so many of the companies here need more capital," she said. "They need networks so they can get their products into export markets and they want to build a real community of entrepreneurs here."

New York state is among the leading states in venture capital received, but local business owners say most of that money doesn't make it much farther north than New York City. Gillibrand says she wants the government to take notice of upstate technology.

"There's a lot of money sitting on the sidelines in this economy and they're looking for good investments," she said. "So we're trying to create collaboration and some networking to increase the access to capital."

The products New York produces are of very high-quality, Mills said, some of the best in the world. All that's left is to outsource them.

Centurion Technology President Kirk Macolini says monetizing the research and technology is critical.

"We talk a lot about investing in education, investing in research, but it's only an investment if you recoup a resource to pay for it and replenish it," he said. "We're running a trillion-dollar-a-year deficit, so we've got to get returns out of these things."

The problem, Macolini said, is the same businesses win money over and over again, and often those businesses aren't all that small.

He said he liked what he heard from the senator Monday, but it will take more than talk to make a difference.

"I've made this point to every congressman and senator that's come to town for the last five years," he said. "So I'll be encouraged when something happens."

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