S2,E9 - Nora Spillane

Posted on May 8, 2024

Talk CNY - Season 2, Episode 9 - Nora Spillane

This is Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank, a semi-monthly podcast by CenterState CEO, Central New York's premier leadership and economic development organization. Join us as we meet the people and explore the projects driving the regional economy forward.

This is Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank. I'm Katie Zilcosky, CenterState CEO's, director of communications and your host for Talk CNY. Central New York's economic development pipeline, which is the mechanism we use to monitor potential opportunities is 20 times what it was in 2019. As of April of this year, it was tracking around $10 billion of potential investment and about 75% of that is coming from the advanced manufacturing sector. This is a big shift from what we were seeing even just a year ago, but CenterState CEO's economic development work isn't limited to the traditional business attraction and retention efforts. It also includes creating opportunities and wealth for local residents and in underserved communities. Helping to lead this work is Nora Spillane CenterState CEO's Vice President of Economic Development. She joins me today on Talk CNY to talk about her work and how we're planning to grow sustainably. Nora, thank you for being here today. Thank

you for having me.

So you are a Syracuse native. I am. Also a lawyer.


By trade, not technically now here in this role. No. So I'm guessing when you were figuring out what you wanted to do, economic development vice president wasn't the top of your list or maybe even on your radar. Yeah, I

didn't know what it was.

So how did you get here and why you stayed?

Like you said, I grew up here. I was really lucky after college. I had an amazing job where I got to meet a lot of cool people who were doing public service and doing it at an excellent level. I was like, all I should go to grad school and do something cool like that. And I did. And I lived in a bunch of places around the country and ended up coming back here after I finished grad school. The economy had tanked, as it does, and found a job at the Onondaga County Economic Development Office. And I was like, oh, hey, this is one, super interesting. But it's a nice combination of communications, which I had done a little bit of and public policy, which I had done some of, and oddly a little bit of the lawyering. So it was like this perfect mish mosh of my skills. Plus, it's just really interesting, cool, fun work. And I worked with great people. I've always worked with great people. So, that's been great.

It's cool, fun work, but it can be a little confusing to people. A lot of misconceptions, kind of abstract if you're not doing it every day. So before we get into anything about what's going on in the region, let's talk a little bit about what is economic development, and why is it important to our entire region?

At its core, economic development is really about making a community that people want to live in and invest in. And those are good things you get to work on. You want to have vibrant neighborhoods, you want to have people who are starting businesses. You want a diverse economic base, you want people to have access to good jobs. So at its core, that's really what economic development boils down to. I think the misconceptions are it's just communities throwing money at projects and then they move and it's not sustainable. But I think, and I know we'll get into it, but the best economic development is the economic development that's honest. Honest about the place. Honest about its people. Honest about what it can do, what it can't do, and honest about how you help people get there.

And I mean, as someone who grew up in Syracuse, I'm sure that informs the work you do now. Yeah,

It's nice to have that in the background. I know what it was like here in the eighties. People wanted to get out, people wanted to leave, and that was the thing to do because we'd kind of missed the boat as a community. But now my nephew happens to be exactly 20 years younger than I am, so it's a nice generational marker. But he's graduated from SU in 10 days and he's looking for a job here, and he's really cool about it and he is pumped about the opportunities here. Now he'll leave and he'll go do something else, but he's not being forced to leave. He wants to explore. He's an explorer.

So there is opportunity here now, especially recently, our economic development pipeline has really exploded in the last year even. Can you talk a little bit about that growth trajectory and give us a wider perspective of what that's been like?

I mean, it's really fascinating. I started CenterState CEO almost five years ago to the day and five years ago, our pipeline was about $500 million. And when we say million dollars, we're talking about capital expenditures that these businesses are going to if they're coming here or if they're expanding here, what they're going to invest. Now, that's $9 billion. Wow. Yeah. So it's a significant jump. And a lot of that has to do with global geopolitical forces, which I know you guys have talked about on this podcast before, long time listener. But I think when we think about what those geopolitical forces mean, it's this reshoring and reshoring is really nerdily fascinating, but ultimately it means manufacturing in America. Manufacturing is capital intensive, it's equipment intensive and it's people intensive. A lot of that pipeline is projects that are looking at America for manufacturing. Seventy-five percent of that number is advanced, what we call advanced manufacturing.

There's no smoke stacks, there's nothing nefarious going on. It's clean rooms. The other thing that's really cool about the pipeline that we have going right now is it's not just people looking at New York maybe for the first time, but it's the businesses that are here putting their table stakes in and saying, I want to grow here too. So of that $9 billion, about a billion and a half is companies that are here that are growing. So that's probably five times what it was five years ago. I think it's a real testament to the community and a lot of work of people, but you don't want those people to get lost in the shuffle of the big flashy numbers. That's a significant commitment to this region.

Yeah. I mean, can you break down a little bit more? What is in that pipeline? You said 75% is advanced manufacturing, but what are some of the other things going on in there? Yeah,

Advanced manufacturing is everything from solar PV manufacturing, so everything that's going on with federal policy to get green energy infrastructure built, it's electric vehicle manufacturing. So again, driven by climate change and other things like that. It's our eds and meds looking to expand and invest, and they're a driver of our innovation economy, which is really interesting to see them stepping up and saying, Hey, this is important. We're going to put our money where our mouth is on some of the facilities that we need. And it's also, it's 14,000 jobs and none of that is Micron. None of that is its supply chain. This is the organic things that would be happening. I think obviously it's boosted a little because of Micron, but this is what's happening and we're seeing it in other communities, similar situated communities across the northeast. One thing in that pipeline and is really exciting is 80% of new jobs get created by companies that are already here. So as we ride this wave of investment, and we already see people kind of doubling down on their location here, but that's really where the meat of this growth can come from too. It's from the people who have been here who have stuck it out, and it's just really exciting to see that opportunity open up for people who were here through the not so terrific times.

People who stuck it out, stuck

It out.

So obviously a lot of growth. What is resonating with businesses and site selectors now? Why are people looking to New York in this moment?

We talked a little bit about the candor and I think up and down the economic development kind of ecosystem. We've been pretty honest about what New York is and isn't. We're a climate haven. We are predictable in terms of a regulatory structure. We have land and we have water. We have a good power grid. So it's like all the things that are sort of very of the moment we already have, which is great. It's our time. But it's the messaging. I think also that we're out there now, and really putting the effort behind it's not just about semiconductors, but it's about this holistic ecosystem that New York has gotten over a little bit of some of the parochialism of Buffalo is this, and Rochester is that, and Albany is this, and Syracuse is this. And I am so fortunate to work with my counterparts in the other kind of major metros in upstate. One, they're all women, which is fantastic. But two, we all work really well together. I know what our strength is, the cool folks in Buffalo know what theirs is. So you just get a really honest kind of broker in New York right now, which is exciting. Yeah.

You mentioned Climate Haven. I mean, before we got on this podcast, you have shown me a map a little bit before one of your favorite

slides. It's my favorite slide.

Yeah. Can you tell me a little bit about if someone listening to this who isn't looking at it, what that describes and why that plays a big role in attracting businesses here?

A few years ago, I was pulling together a slide deck for a project that was coming to town, and I found a graphic, and it's from the Red Cross. And their purposes we're talking about areas of the country, which are, for lack of a better term, disaster prone. So I had a map and it was tsunamis and earthquakes and wildfires and flooding, and Syracuse just had this little corner of New York where it was nothing. Now obviously the past couple of weeks we've seen some things, but ultimately we're a climate haven. People will be moving here, access to water, that's going to change migratory patterns over the next couple of generations. It gives businesses a level of predictability and certainty. When you think about a hundred billion dollars, that's a 40, 50-year investment. You want to make sure your building's going to be there, it's going to be able to work, it's going to be powered. So yes, that's my very favorite little graphic to sort of share with people. It becomes a little bit, it sounds a bit trite when you talk about what we have snow and we can move it, but ultimately the number of down days at the airport is one maybe a year. Business interruptions, not a thing here. We've got a stable power grid, so the redundancy that people seek is really, it's all baked in right now.

So it's really creating space for this diverse and innovative economy on top of these really big projects.

And we didn't just magically get there. We looked at our strengths, we looked at how to grow this, and it's a long-term view. And I think one of the things that's really, really cool about this moment is it feels like there's a lot happening right now, and it kind of came out of nowhere, but the 20 years before this that wasn't fun is really paying off. I

was going to say, for someone like you, it probably doesn't feel like it came out of nowhere. It feels like it's probably years of work

towards this place. I'm coming up on 15 years doing this, and it is, I remember telling a person who was working for me, they were really excited about something and I was like, let's just lower those expectations. You're not going to get a billion dollar Google data center, blah, blah, blah. And lo and behold, two years later, I'm working on a hundred billion project, and I was wrong. And I can admit that, but I, it's lot of intentionality and I, I worked with CenterState CEO before I worked at CenterState CEO, a lot of credit for taking that long-term view for investing in things like GENIUS NY and Work Train and The Tech Garden and thinking through public policy issues that were a decade off. It's not the most glamorous work always, and you don't always get to stand in front of the podium and say how great you did, but it's the important work that makes this really all get done.

Yeah. I want to talk a little bit more about, you hinted at it a little bit about the approach that CenterState CEO takes when it comes to economic development. It's much broader, more holistic than maybe the perception of what economic development is. So can you talk a little bit about what that perspective is and how we execute on that vision?

Yeah. We are really lucky on my team. We get to work on everything from businesses on South Salina and the folks in the Salt City market who are looking to start their first business to the Microns, the TTMs, the PPCs of the world. So it's a breadth of companies, but they all have an important part of the economy to make you have this live, work and play concept. Well, to live, work and play in a place that's cool. You want cool places to eat, you want it to be reflective of the people who live in that community. You want buildings in dilapidated neighborhoods to become vibrant, mixed use spaces. You want to have a cool urban core and you don't get that done just magically. You have to foster those businesses and find the capital to renovate a building that's going to cost more than it's going to be worth at the end.

So that's some of the cool stuff we get to work on. But it's really, it's about the placemaking. It's about making this region, not just Syracuse, but Oswego and Auburn and Cortland, cool little communities, and there's something in all of that for everyone. But that then builds into what makes other companies want to come here or stay here. So you think about TTM, they have a few hundred people out in DeWitt working. They've been here, they've been successful. But the woman who is the site leader out there, Kathy wonderful, but she was like, I want this new project here. She knows what her workforce can do. She knows what the region can do to support her efforts and she knows that we can get it done. And that sort of validation is really incredible. But it's across the spectrum. It's working with mid-size businesses who are all of a sudden looking around and saying, Hey, what's in this whole Micron thing for me? And there's a lot there. And we owe them those people who are going to create all the jobs who are just thinking about how they find their way in. We owe them access to that and easy access. So you don't have one without the other. It's like a Jenga stack of things. You need capital, you need cool restaurants. You need an arts and culture scene. You need big business people want to work at,

You need the whole picture. It's a

complex mix. Yeah.

I mean now in what we're talking about, CenterState is in a variety of places helping a variety of people. So why are we as an organization so well suited to be a leader in this work?

I think it's twofold. One, we're an honest broker. We obviously advocate for our mightily zealously. But I think to my point earlier, you know when something's not right, and I think we have the ability as an organization that can take a long-term view to say, that's not going to be right for us. So there's a level of candor that I think is important. I think too, we have some of the smartest people I've ever worked with. There are people here who are nationally renowned experts in their field, and we get to do the cool work with them. Cool if you're a nerd. But I get to work with incredible people who we go to a conference and they're the speaker at that conference, they're the keynote, and that's really, really incredible.

But it's also, we have an ability to speak on behalf of this community and on behalf of the business community that's super unique. We're the largest member organization in Upstate New York. That's a lot of voices that we get to carry, and that gives a lot of weight. If we have a public policy point or if we say to a business that's looking to come here, this is a good place to do business. And these five people can tell you why. So there's a level of credibility that we carry, and it comes from Rob (Simpson) on down that we are just truly here to figure out what's best for the community and what's best for our members.

We're going to take a quick break here, but we will return in just a moment after a word from our presenting sponsor, NBT Bank.

What I'm looking for in a bank is one that's looking out for me, like NBT. I want a relationship and a team that supports me and my dreams like NBT. And let's face it, life can get challenging. I need a bank that's focused on me. They've been rated tops in all the things that matter, like trust, customer service, and financial advice. So when I need a bank I can trust. It's always NBT and me.

Wlcome back to Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank. I'm Katie Zilcosky. Today with me is Nora Spillane, Vice President of Economic Development here at CenterState CEO. So Nora, we've been talking about the growth and how we're planning for this region so we can grow sustainably and equitably. We would be remiss to not talk about Micron, of course. Now the way that Micron is coming into this community, it's an opportunity to create a national model of how economic development can be done. Because in addition to building a new facility and doing business here, they're also placing a priority on community infrastructure and workforce and equity. So why is this model so important to the larger economic development picture in maybe the United States of America?

Yeah, I think first and foremost, kudos to Micron to New York State to the federal chips folks for really placing an emphasis on equity in all of their grant applications and all that. It's really validating to see. I think it's important for Syracuse because we missed the last economy. We just hopped, skipped and jumped right over that. And we are still digging our way out of that. Decades of disinvestment in populations and in infrastructure and in communities is going to take a while to come out of. We've been really fortunate to be working on this Community Engagement Committee, upcoming document coming out called the Community Priorities document, which is, it's been a really exciting process. We've done a lot of community engagement. We had some terrific community members serving, giving their time, some great folks that we worked with. But the thing that's really exciting is hearing the voice of the community say what they want to see prioritized.

It's not, here's an action plan that you can put on a shelf and 14 years later you'll be like, oops, we didn't do any of that. It's really about saying, here are the priorities that we see. And then throwing that back to the community and saying, how do you see this getting fixed and giving folks the tools of data and strategy and resources. I mean, I think most important out of all of that is resources. Micron has committed $250 million. New York state's committed $100 million. We're all looking to fundraise and get more money. And it's not just about that money. It's about the broader validation that this document and what the community has said can bring to other things. So you might go to a national funder and say, Hey, I want to do this in Syracuse and here's why, and here's all the data that backs it up. Also, 1200 people said that they wanted to see this too. So it's been a really exciting process, but it's also giving us the tools to not leave people behind to listen, to hear what they're saying, to not tell people what we think they want to hear, but to have some pretty honest feedback.

Yeah, I bet. What has been some of the feedback, the big themes that have come up in some of these community engagement

sessions? Yeah, I mean, it is everything you've seen in the news, it's housing, it's childcare, it's workforce development. And workforce development is everything from K-12 education to Ph.D's and what you do in K-12 to get people to understand what a microchip is and how does that impact their daily life and what does the manufacturing process look like. That's a giant project in and of itself, let alone replicating that across tens of thousands of students across all of New York State so that in 10 years they can go work at Micron or Global Foundries or pick your fab. Childcare - huge. I think the pandemic taught us a lot of lessons about women in the workforce and making sure that there is access to good quality, affordable childcare. The states put some tax credits in place for their business incentives that they kind of plus up if you add some childcare.

So they're moving the needle, but ultimately it's a supply and demand. We have too much demand and not enough supply. And how do you support, they're small business owners too in some cases, how do we support them? And small business access across the board, just making sure that the small businesses, and particularly those that might be BIPOC-owned or come from disadvantaged founders, get the opportunity to get in line. It's going to be really fascinating to work with the Microns and the bigger suppliers and help them understand what it's like to be a small business that's working with them. I might not have the kind of cybersecurity you need. I might not have the bonding capacity as a contractor. So how do we match make those opportunities with the resources they do need? So that came up a bit too. It covered a lot of ground. I

was going to say, it's probably a lot of complex intertwining things that all came

together. I haven't done this much policy work in a long time.

It brought you back to the old days. So the engagement committee obviously is going to be coming out with the priorities document like you mentioned, but how will it stay active after the document is released? What are the next steps following the document?

So it will be released. It's a joint project of the governor and Micron, so we are excited for them to release it. It's also something that the Secretary of Commerce has been watching us do. It's, it's just kind of bonkers, but the Community Engagement Committee will stay involved. What that looks like on a super detailed basis is not super interesting, but they have done so much legwork with so many groups in this community that we'd be remiss if we didn't continue to build those relationships. So regular public meetings, regular engagement with them, looking at the document in a year and a half and saying like, oh, hey, these five things moved really quickly. So what do we need to tackle next? Or what are we hearing and do we need to course correct? That's on them. That's on them to help keep the rest of us honest and what we're doing.

So we're building and preparing for people who are obviously planning to come to this community to live and work here, but there are people who have been here for decades who are lifelong residents, who have sustained our local economy. We talked about them earlier in this episode even. What does that mean for them? How are you and everyone else working in this sector right now figuring out what all this change will mean for our longtime residents?

Thanks for asking the question. It keeps me up at night, but I think people hear a lot of things. You hear the Micron, you hear the Community Engagement Committee, you hear about Tech Hubs, you hear about all these things and grants and money and designations, and what does that really mean? So just rephrasing your question to you, but ultimately what it means is collaboration. None of this can get done in a vacuum, and I think that's something that I think CenterState CEO is really good at kind of driving and making sure people know. But if we don't make sure that our business community, our small business community, knows about the array of resources, we don't do a super job of that. We need to get better, but with all of this coming, we are getting resourced to do that for the first time in ever. And that's really exciting.

I think we have a lot of people in the right positions, a lot of local leaders, a lot of state officials who are just laser-focused on making sure we get this right. And particularly for those folks who have been here, one of the projects in the Tech Hub thing is really about how do we support those businesses between Buffalo and Syracuse, who should be part of this, who need access to resources, who might never have thought they make the widget that goes in the thingy that makes a microchip, science, of course, obviously. But those companies need the opportunity to figure out how they fit, what they need to fit, what the timing is, and we owe it to them to make that as transparent and as user-friendly as possible. And so that's a lot of collaboration, just every which way.

So my last question to you, and maybe there is one place, there's probably a variety of places, but for someone listening to this who wants to get a little bit more involved, what's their next step? What's a path to take?

I think if someone is interested or they're curious or they want to find out more, reach out to CenterState CEO. We'll figure out where to point you in the right direction if it's not us. I think that's one of the things we're best at. If you have an idea for a business, check out your small business development center. They'll help you write a business plan, give you some market research. I think just ask the questions. We're a good place to start. We're not the only place to start, but I'm going to give my team a plug that they do a great job of helping people figure out where they need to go and what they need and how to get them up and running. Absolutely. Go team.

Nora, thank you so much for being here today.

Thanks for having me. Of course,

CenterState CEO's podcast Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank, is available on clickcny.com and all major podcast platforms. After each episode, you can join us on Click, where we'll continue to talk about this topic and provide additional resources and links. In Click, you can listen to or watch every episode of Talk CNY. Click is CenterState CEO's digital chamber platform where our members connect, learn, and receive support from our staff. For new episode reminders, be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast listening app. If you're enjoying Talk CNY, consider leaving a quick review or a five-star rating.

Talk CNY Main Series Transcripts