KERI P. MATTOX Business writer
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000

With New York's first two microchip fabrication sites clearing the hurdles for pre-approval in rapid succession, backers of a Capital Region chip-fab plant are even more optimistic a local site soon will be deemed ``shovel-ready.'' A 166-acre site in Wallkill, Orange County, became the first in the state to win pre-approval last month, following two years of generic environmental impact studies. The state's second site, the 219-acre Aurelius Industrial Park in Aurelius, Cayuga County, was given the go-ahead last week.

Both had been involved in a fast-track process funded through a 1998 state-sponsored initiative.

Thirteen potential sites were identified by the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform, which oversaw the program, including a site in Rensselaer Technology Park in North Greenbush. That location suffered a very public defeat last fall when Town Board members voted 3-2 against pursuing the environmental impact studies necessary for the process to proceed.

But the new Capital Region Semiconductor Task Force, a program of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany, has been picking up the pieces since last fall. It mailed out nearly 80 letters to municipalities soliciting new sites in April and, just last month, brought together elected officials from almost a dozen local and county governments to sign a ``municipal cooperation agreement.''

Under that pact, the local governments pledged to work together on a joint marketing program to lure a chip-fab plant to the Capital Region.

A pre-approved site means only that it would be suitable for a plant. A manufacturer still would need to have specific plant plans evaluated.

Kelly Lovell, who on Monday will assume the presidency of the CEG, a private business development group, called the Orange County approval ``fantastic.''

``Orange County's efforts may draw these companies to look at New York state and to look at that region and then, perhaps, look just up the river,'' she said.

Not only will a pre-approved site in the Hudson Valley bring more attention to the nearby Capital Region, but the fact that New York finally has pre-approved sites is important, Lovell said.

``This sets a precedent for a shovel-ready site. A site has gone through the process. It shows everyone that it can be done and that's excellent,'' she added.

Last fall's defeat in North Greenbush was due largely to the clash between the local economic development community and area residents concerned about the potential environmental and social impact of a chip-fab in their backyards.

But local business leaders say a chip-fab plant -- a large-scale facility that would cost between $2 billion and $5 billion to construct -- could mean thousands of jobs and attract dozens of plant suppliers to its environs.

Wallkill officials estimate that a chip-fab plant could mean as many as 5,000 jobs and close to $4 million in annual tax benefits to Orange County.

Three or four possible Capital Region sites have been offered up as a result of the April mass mailing to municipalities, said Denise Zieske, vice president for economic development at the CEG. The center currently is working to identify several more sites that could fit the criteria needed for a chip fab plant: 150 to 200 acres, 3 million gallons of water per day, and a location within 45 minutes of an airport and far enough away from a rail line to avoid vibrations.

``The approval just means momentum,'' Zieske said. ``It's a win for everybody.'' Business writer Kenneth Aaron contributed to this story.