Healthy startup environment, riverfront revitalization and high-tech education help this historic city regain its sparkle.
Albany, New York, is taking stock of its history and embracing a shining new future.
The oldest continuously chartered city in the U.S., it has been the capital of New York State since 1797 and a center for culture, education and industry. But, like many American cities, it had lost some of its luster over the years, its downtown growing drab as offices and commercial space moved out, its historic river cut off from the heart of the city by highways and rail lines, its economic life in need of a major shot in the arm.
“Going back 10 or 15 years ago, as with many other cities of its type, Albany was empty for lack of a better word,â€ says Sarah Reginelli, president of Capitalize Albany Corp., which is leading an ambitious urban revitalization initiative. “We used to say you could roll a nickel down Broadway and hear it. That’s certainly not the case anymore.”
Today, new businesses thrive, downtown residential development is hurrying to meet the increasing demand, entertainment venues and restaurants keep people downtown long past work hours, and the Hudson River once again is playing a big part in the life of the city. Here are three reasons behind the buzz:
New Startups and Entrepreneurs
Thanks to a concerted effort since 1995 to build Tech Valley, a coalition of 18 counties in the eastern New York, nanotechnology companies from around the world have found a home here, creating thousands of jobs, partnering with such renowned research institutions as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at University at Albany. The resulting synergy has spun off a growing number of exciting tech startups, which in turn has prompted interest from investors and also attracted talented young people.
“As Millennials are coming out of school, trained and ready to take these jobs, their first thought is where do I want to live,â€ Reginelli points out. “They are looking for vital, walkable places to live. It’s really dependent on the downtowns of Tech Valley to become places this talent wants to relocate to.”
Getting Back to the Hudson River
In the past 15 years, the city has made a major effort to bring people back to the river on which it was founded, building the Hudson River Way Pedestrian Bridge over existing infrastructure and constructing a multipurpose amphitheater and event space.
“The city is built on a hill, and the river is just a stunning physical attribute that connects us with our peer cities along the Hudson,â€ Reginelli says. “It is our lifeline. Being able to connect to it at as many points as possible is our future.”
Strides in Education
The area has focused in recent years on creating a highly skilled workforce for its high-tech sector. The Capital South Campus Center offers tech training to economically disadvantaged adults, providing a direct pipeline into Albany’s tech industry. Younger students enjoy many other tech-training options, the jewel in the crown being Tech Valley High School. Launched in 2007, in part with a $400,000 grant from Bill Gates’ New Technology Foundation, the school offers a project-based academic program with special emphasis on technology and enables students to work closely with nanotech professionals.
“We used to say you could roll a nickel down Broadway and hear it. That’s certainly not the case anymore.”