Building Better Economies

On this episode of New York State Manufacturing Now, FuzeHub’s Steve Melito takes a journey through the evolving landscape of New York’s economy with Alyson Slack, Senior Economic Analyst at MRB Group. Listen in as we explore the storied past of New York State’s manufacturing sector, its pivotal role in shaping our economy, and the transition from production to a service-based economy. We shine a light on manufacturing’s enduring impact, from job creation to innovation, and how MRB Group’s strategic planning is driving development readiness, with a nod to their successful collaborations and infrastructure enhancements that are revitalizing manufacturing across the state.

In this discussion, we delve into the dynamic ecosystem of New York State’s economic development, assessing the strength of investment in research and development, and how the NYSTAR network, complemented by FuzeHub, is propelling technology-led growth. We confront the myths surrounding New York’s business environment, discussing the unexpected advantages that New York offers, such as a 0% corporate income tax for manufacturers and its proximity to R&D hotspots.


Steve Melito: Hey everybody, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today we’re talking to Alyson Slack, Senior Economic Analyst for MRB Group, which provides local government services that include economic development. Unless you think that Alyson is just a policy wonk, she also plays in a bluegrass band called Big Stone Gap and speaks multiple languages, including Chinese. Alyson Slack, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now.

Alyson Slack: Wow, thank you for having me. I wasn’t anticipating quite that intro. Glad to be here.

Steve Melito: Great, great. And so you have played before at King’s Donuts in Cambridge, New York, is that correct?

Alyson Slack: Yes, that’s one of our mainstays in and around Southern Washington County, New York.

Steve Melito: Okay, good, so let’s talk manufacturing. What’s the backstory on manufacturing in New York State? How has the sector performed and shaped our state over time?

Alyson Slack: New York has such a strong manufacturing legacy. We have cool industrial revolution history, then the Erie Canal catalyzing commerce beyond our borders. We’re home to an impressive list of critical innovations along the way. Then we had the era when large manufacturing corporations anchored a lot of our upstate communities think Kodak and Rochester, GE and Schenectady. We really were a manufacturing leader in the 19th century and into the 20th. As a developed country our economy has shifted more toward services, away from production, and that was really accelerated with globalization.

So much of economic development is a marketing game. But I like to be frank about this stuff. So I’m just going to be frank about a couple of numbers here. Today the New York State Manufacturing Sector employs about 420,000 people. In 1990, that figure was over a million. That’s a big contraction. That contraction happened nationally, but it happened pretty acutely here. That’s also a story, though, of productivity growth and producing higher value goods. Output per worker has more than doubled during that period. We produce some incredible things and technologies in New York today. So 420,000 manufacturing workers across the state, that’s 4.6% of the statewide workforce. It’s a significantly higher figure if you talk just about upstate. Exclude that New York City Metro with all of its finance jobs, et cetera. But those jobs, those manufacturing jobs, that manufacturing activity has an outsized impact from the standpoint of economic vitality. So I hope we have an opportunity to talk more about why manufacturing still very much matters and will continue to matter.

Steve Melito: We absolutely will. Let’s talk terminology, though. Economic development is one of those things we’ve all heard, and some people may struggle to define. What is it and why does it matter?

Alyson Slack: On our team, we talk about the fact that economic development matters because it’s all about improving people’s lives, their well-being, their quality of life, and that happens in large part through the creation of jobs, growing incomes, growing the tax base. Economic development has a lot of dimensions. It’s not all about manufacturing jobs, but there are good reasons that manufacturing is such a focus of our profession. Creating one job in the manufacturing sector has big ripple effects throughout a local economy. It creates more indirect spending in jobs than other types of job creation. Manufacturing jobs pay relatively high wages. Manufacturing produces goods that are exported, if you will, beyond a community’s borders, bringing revenue in. That’s also true at a national level, and the manufacturing sector is at the heart of commercial innovation, innovations key to our long-term national competitiveness. So always a big part of the economic development discussion.

Steve Melito: Sure and your employer is MRB Group. What do they do within New York State?

Alyson Slack: MRB Group has been around for over 100 years serving the communities of upstate New York during that period. Today we also have offices across Texas, south Carolina and other states. We’ve got about 170 professionals across a bunch of disciplines Our core engineering and architecture services, also land use planning, GIS, of course, my economic development unit. So our secret sauce is that we can bring all those things together to meet a really wide variety of needs of our clients, who are primarily local governments, counties, regional organizations, sometimes state agencies, sometimes developers, occasionally manufacturers themselves.

Steve Melito: Got it, and your title is Senior Economic Analyst. And what do you do personally? That has potential implications for manufacturing in the state.

Alyson Slack: On the economic development team at MRB Group, we help communities with strategic planning, economic analysis, real estate market analysis, economic and fiscal impact analysis and a wide variety of things beyond that. But when we’re in a community helping to draft a strategic plan, manufacturing is almost always part of that. We’ll look at what target industries make sense to attract and expand from the standpoint of a community’s existing competitive strengths or supply chain opportunities related to who’s already there. We’ll figure out why your industrial park is underutilized. Maybe We’ll analyze workforce gaps and talent availability. We’ll help you pursue federal and state grants to create a new technology park, for example, and sometimes we help regions and counties identify their remaining high potential economic development sites, figuring out what size industrial operations you could put on them, what infrastructure and utilities are needed and advising communities on how to advance those sites to development readiness.

Steve Melito: Sure. What are some successes you’ve had with MRB Group? Are there any notable manufacturing related projects you’d like to mention?

Alyson Slack: I would love to hijack this question to talk about some of the great things my colleagues do in other parts of MRB Group as it relates to manufacturing. So outside of the economic development unit, the firm does a ton of architecture and engineering. Sometimes it’s about serving manufacturing campuses directly, like designing new labs or renovated production spaces for Regeneron, as an example of a client in the capital region. Sometimes it’s really about improving underlying infrastructure, so helping communities expand their water and wastewater infrastructure, which is critical to having the capacity needed to serve current and future industrial users. Sometimes we get to involve other parts of our firm when they take our site identification work to the next level test fitting what kind of industrial building can get onto a parcel, developing site plan concepts that can be helpful to communities in marketing those sites to developers.

Steve Melito: I see. So before you joined MRB Group, you worked for Empire State Development. What did you do there and what were some projects you were part of?

Alyson Slack: Working at ESD was awesome. Of course, different levels of government have access to different kinds of economic levers right. So for me being in the economic development field, it was great to get that state level experience. At Empire State Development I supported the Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, known as NYSTAR. I took, and still take, so much pride in the fact that New York State invests so heavily in R&D and technology-led growth.

That NYSTAR network really underpins the state’s innovation economy. We have our competitor states when it comes to being innovation-led, but there’s really nothing like the NYSTAR network with its support for all the centers for advanced technology centers of excellence across the state. Tech incubators working alongside the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership network all under that same umbrella is really powerful. And to have Fuse Hub act as that nexus that harnesses all those capabilities to better serve industry with that network to help them become more competitive and cutting edge. I like to think that I played a role generally in enhancing the cohesiveness of that network and supercharging it to better serve industry needs. That all flowed from some great vision on the part of NYSTAR’s leadership at the time, Matt Watson.

Steve Melito: I would say that you did, you guys were fantastic, and thanks for the shout out to Fuse Hub and the MEP network here in New York State. Now I’m going to ask you a question that might get me in trouble, not you. So New York State is sometimes perceived as, frankly, not the best place to do business. How do you respond to that criticism?

Alyson Slack: Well, again, now that I don’t work at Empire State Development, I’m not solely on the marketing and promotion side, only pointing out the things that are good. It’s true we have a bad rap in New York State – that’s part reality and part noise, frankly. The reality part, you know permitting processes, timelines are indeed more onerous and risky in New York State than a lot of other places and that’s costly and risky for developers, manufacturers looking at locating to our state. Potentially the construction of manufacturing facilities can be more expensive in New York, but some of our reputational problem it really is misperception. For a manufacturer looking at a site in New York State compared to other states, their operating costs and payroll costs really aren’t going to be higher in New York State as compared to sites elsewhere. I’ve seen this in the modeling software that site selection consultants use and build. It was a surprise to me as well, because I, too, had heard that just everything’s more expensive here.

New York State also has 0% corporate income tax rate for manufacturers. We have abundant resources that are relevant to advanced manufacturing. Abundant clean water, affordable and increasingly clean energy. Our hydropower assets are key there. And, I think we shouldn’t overlook that a lot of our upstate communities have such strong quality of life. Things like low commute times, relatively attainable housing prices. Those are increasingly critical to talent attraction, something all manufacturers struggle with. And for some industries there’s no substitute for being close to major sources of R&D, innovation, and science and engineering talent. We have that in spades in upstate New York, the most incredible array of research universities and downstate that anchor that kind of activity.

Steve Melito: Absolutely. Good answer. Yeah, north of Albany there’s all sorts of great places to live and you can have all sorts of different qualities of life – suburbs, rural. If you want the urban experience, you can have that too. Let’s zoom out from New York State and talk about the federal level. There are a number of developments in federal policy and even international trade that relate to manufacturing. How will they impact New York State?

Alyson Slack: It is a really interesting time in that respect. Policy developments, global trading shifts that are already beginning to reshape the future of America’s manufacturing sector. For as long as I’ve been a working professional, there’s been expansion of global trade. It’s been all globalization all the time. Now we’re seeing a major shift away from open trade. Things are reconfiguring out of Washington, the CHIPS and Science Act really supercharging incentives for domestic semiconductor production and in the Inflation Reduction Act, incentives that are encouraging domestic production of electric vehicles and their components. We have tariffs on China like we’ve not had in a long time. We have policies that are meant to keep certain high-end tech out of the hands of certain countries because of their security applications, and other policies that are generally encouraging, re-shoring or at least friend-shoring.

Companies care about geopolitical risks, so they’re part of this reconfiguration. It’s already having an impact. Companies also care about supply chain vulnerabilities. That was something that was so painful for the manufacturing sector during the pandemic. You’re seeing corporations relocate large parts of production apparatuses, thinking differently about where they’re going to put that new plant. Now, not every new project is going to locate in New York State. In some cases, that’s going to mean a new plant in Mexico rather than China or Vietnam, for example. But there are going to be domestic job growth potentials that New York State can look to participate in and capture, especially for technology-intensive production that’s higher up on the value chain.

Steve Melito: Sure, I was going to ask these next two questions separately, but I’m going to roll them together just in case they’re related. What is the greatest challenge facing New York State in terms of economic development and what’s the greatest opportunity?

Alyson Slack: On the challenge side, and so far really just as a challenge, I think housing is shaping up to be the big challenge of our time nationally. With respect to the economic well-being of people, the health of our communities, we still have communities in New York State and I’m talking mostly upstate at this point that are much more affordable than other places around the country. But in general, having the right housing products at attainable prices is going to be such a driver of workforce availability and again, in turn, workforce is the biggest challenge for our manufacturing sector. I talked about sites earlier. That’s another challenge, too. New York State has had some big successes Economic project wins over the past decade plus, which means a lot of our mega sites are spoken for, getting absorbed. Other states are in the same position. When we talk to site selectors in our business, right? All the good big sites with no issues are gone. But we do have to get to work to get more substantial sites development ready. The Fast New York program, Fast-NY, is key to that and, by the way, it’s something we help communities with at MRB Group in leveraging that program.

If I’m rolling right into opportunities, New York State’s greatest opportunity always has been and remains playing to our innovation strengths, maintaining our innovation leadership. That does come with its own challenge of keeping those investments up, making sure we’re investing in the right technology areas and then translating that innovation leadership into broader economic growth, broadly shared prosperity. One specific opportunity is certainly the further build out of the semiconductor industry. We’ve got such a great foundation that could not have been envisioned 15 years ago even. We’ve got some big recent wins with Micron, Wolfspeed, GlobalFoundries and beyond, and we do have the opportunity to capture more of that supply chain activity, especially as we reach greater critical mass and during this powerful time of incentives at the federal and state level, and I would hate to leave clean tech out of the equation. On the topic of manufacturing, there is big opportunity out there for our industrial base to pivot to new products and technologies associated with that clean energy transition.

Steve Melito: Okay, good. Anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask that you’d like to talk about? Where’s the band going to play next?

Alyson Slack: Well, you just missed us at Iron Coffee in Hoosick Falls. I don’t know what else is on the docket. We’re kind of taking it easy this winter, waiting for it to be warm enough to play at the donut cart again. I’ll give you a heads up.

Steve Melito: All right, good Spring’s coming eventually.

Alyson Slack: Let’s hope so.

Steve Melito: All right, Alyson Slack. Thanks so much for being on New York State Manufacturing Now.

Alyson Slack: Thank you so much for having me, Steve.

Steve Melito: We’ve been talking to Alyson Slack, Senior Economic Analyst for MRB Group, about Economic Development, and if you’d like to develop the economy for your own company, here’s an opportunity that might just be for you. It’s called the Quebec New York State Transportation Rendezvous. It’s a B2B event and it’s your chance to meet potential customers in the transportation industry. It’s scheduled for Tuesday, March 19th in Plattsburgh, New York. I’ll be there and I hope that you will, too. To register, visit slash calendar, slash detail, slash 476. And if you didn’t get all that, don’t worry. Just go to, fill out a Contact Us form, and we’ll hook you up On behalf of FuzeHub and New York State Manufacturing. Now this is Steve Melito signing off.

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