STATE HUNTING FOR CHIP-FABRICATING SITES

DAVID ORENSTEIN Business writer
Section: BUSINESS,  Page: E1

Date: Thursday, December 11, 1997

State and local economic development officials began a major initiative Wednesday that they hope will prepare New York to lure huge computer chip manufacturing plants and the thousands of jobs they would create. The initiative, called Chip Fab '98, will pick out the state's 10 best sites for semiconductor plants and ``pre-qualify'' them with permits so that chip companies can move right in and begin building if they choose.


About 40 local and state officials met at the Desmond all morning to discuss the initiative, led by Empire State Development and the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform.


``This is the very, very beginning of this process,'' said ESD spokeswoman Caroline Quartararo. ``This was the initial meeting.''


Computer chip plants often represent investments of more than $1 billion and employ hundreds, if not more than 1,000 workers. The huge costs involved and the short life cycle of the products they make, however, require that they are built and operating as soon as possible, Quartararo said.


Pre-permitting can help a chip plant avoid the delays associated with gaining approvals. New York's approval process frequently takes more than a year, while other states require only a few months, according to industry experts. Pre-permitting has not been done on a statewide basis before.


``This is a unique and aggressive approach that's being pursued by Gov. Pataki,'' Quartararo said.


Local economic development and planning officials who attended the morning meeting applauded the administration's initiative.


``I'm glad to see the state taking a pro-active approach,'' said Chris Hunsinger, president of Warren County Regional Economic Development Corp. He said pre-permitting is common in Vermont.


Warren County has a 900-acre spot in the Town of Queensbury that could accommodate a chip plant, Hunsinger said. The only question would be whether the light industrial zoning would allow for a chip plant.


Hunsinger said that speakers at the meeting said the semiconductor industry generally needs a large tract and that 200 acres is often enough.


Robert Pasinella, director of economic development for Rensselaer County, said he thinks Rensselaer Technology Park would be an ideal site for a semiconductor plant. The site, home to numerous technology companies, has the space and other necessary facilities, he said.


The park was one site scoped out by semiconductor companies who looked at the area years ago but eventually elected not to come, he said.


Philip Pearson, director of the town of Colonie's Planning and Economic Development Department, said the town is excited about the initiative, but it may not have enough available land. He said he would meet with the supervisor to discuss the town's potential.


Each interested municipality took an application form from Wednesday's meeting to fill out with information about its most promising sites. The information will be returned to the state, which will present it to a site selection consultant.


The consultant, Industrial Design Corp., a subsidiary of CH2M Hill of Corvallis, Ore., will review the applications and recommend the 10 most promising sites, which the state will then market to the industry.


The 10 best sites will receive state help including matching funds toward the preparation of permits. Quartararo said the state will make up to $50,000 available to each of the 10 sites and has budgeted another $50,000 for the consultant, which she described as a leader in semiconductor site selection. The company works with manufacturers as well as their hosts.


Although pre-permitting does not involve the semiconductor company specifically, it does involve the public and environmental concerns, Quartararo and local officials said.


With public input the process will hammer out the guidelines for a generic semiconductor plant and require any specific plans to conform to those parameters. The only difference, officials said, is that the process is done in advance so that a presented plan can win quick approval if it fits.