Oct 31, 2006

Can the private sector fly solo around here?

Another day, another press conference announcing a taxpayer subsidy for some project nicely trumpeted under the "economic development" umbrella to make it all warm and fuzzy.

Yesterday's edition was to joyfully proclaim that $5million in public funds was going to the Wellington Hotel /State Street re-development initiative in downtown Albany. You know, the one that only a couple weeks ago was being recognized as a great example of the private sector getting involved in downtown Albany's revitalization?

Without getting into the dirty laundry of this particular deal (i.e., the private developer's campaign contribution connections to the two guys making the speeches), I'd like to offer this suggestion:

Let's make the next "economic development" press conference one where something is getting done WITHOUT public subsidies involved.

Now THAT will be something to celebrate.

Oct 27, 2006

I was born at night, but not last night

Here's a good one--this just happend:

The phone rings here in Action Central. It's a mid-level member of an industry support & development group within our coverage region of eastern New York. They're good folks and we've always gotten along well with them.

This person, whom I've never met, has some great news for me: they wish to pay homage to the Tech Valley Times for its excellence, its contributions to the business community, for its blah - blah - blah. Such homage will come in the way of being named a finalist for some awards ceremony they're putting together in the months ahead. Sounds great, doesn't it?

But there's a catch. Unfortunately, we are not an official memmber of this particular group; as in a dues paying member. Apparently, this just won't work. The solution, naturally, is to rectify that shortcoming so we can proceed with our being an honored component of the upcoming festivities.

There's a similar trick used by some unwashed members of our industry: "we'll run a story on you if you feed us some advertising." Maybe this group should track down one of them.

The impending death of MySpace

Last night's entertaining baseball game between the Gateway Redbirds and the Motown Bengals was taken by the former, giving skipper LaRussa and his lads a formidable 3-1 edge in this year's renewal of the Fall Classic. Sure, we don't have the Bombers / BoSox / Amazin's involved, but the Series is always worth at least a peek by fans of this glorious sport.

What has me writing today is not the contest itself, however. Instead, it was a signoff promo that concluded the Fox Network’s post game recap that drew my attention. Yes, I was still awake; were you?

Announcer Joe Buck gave notice that viewers could now turn their attention to the internet, proceed to the Fox MySpace page and catch the latest episodes of various shows that they might have missed or were so entranced with that they just HAVE to watch it all over again. One could even catch the season premier of The OC on the portal before it is shown on the traditional media network. He even gave the backslash-Fox command to ease the navigation challenge.

Fox is a part of the giant News Corp. News Corp, as you may or may not know, is the new owner of…MySpace. A gazillion dollars is all it took for that to happen, but they’ve got it. So what we witnessed last night is simply an execution of what we in the media world refer to as a feedback loop: pushing people back and forth between your various brands and properties.

But what this highlights is the old media / new media disconnect. In this case, News Corp hears all the buzz about MySpace, assumes that there must be “something to this thing they call social networking” and writes the big fact check to get into the party. News Corp -- and Fox-- are now part of the in crowd!

So what do these nouveau hipsters do with their newfound glory? They play the part of Oklahoma grain salesmen at a supermodel party in SoHo, that’s what they do. In other words, they don’t quite fit into the scene.

MySpace, for the twelve of you out there that don’t yet know, is a spot on the net where one tosses out some basic biographical hooks about his or her self (likes / dislikes) into the waters and see who it reels in. The goal, of course, is to make one-on-one connections, hence the term social networking.

It caught on with Generation Z or ZZ or whatever demographic designation we’re up to now, for logical reasons. In this era of kids being forced to travel in packs and engage in group activities --- whether it be Girl Scouts or soccer teams or band practice or summer camp--- MySpace provided an outlet for the expression of individuality. Yes, it’s a sad commentary on the current state of the American experience, but what other avenues do they have?

Big Media, as shown by Fox last night, doesn’t get it. After paying the bucks for MySpace, the archetype of social, one-on-one networking, what does it do? It employs its old school broadcast model within it. Shove those slick, big budget, wide – audience television shows onto the servers, create a page, and let it rip to as many eyeballs as possible. Pushed, of course, by means of massive old school marketing campaigns that they don’t need to pay for because they own the channels and newspapers they’ll run on!

Why do these people think the kids ran away from that great big screen down in the living room and into their bedroom’s net-connected PC in the first place? It was to reel in that new mate, pen pal, concert buddy or hookup partner, that’s why – not to watch OC's episodes.

News Corp/Fox, as well as the rest of the Old Media dinosaurs, continue to struggle with getting a real handle on what the net is all about. They just don’t get it and are in for some pain and suffering in the years ahead as they fail to adapt to this new dawn.

I can already see the headlines playing out in the years ahead, as each one throws its hands into the air as their financial losses amount from this getting hip experiment. Of course, they'll blame everyone else for their failings.

Meanwhile, theyll ruin MySpace as it becomes totally irrelevent to its original wave of supporters. I'd start betting on some of the next round of social networking sites, the ones that haven't yet positioned themselves to be bought out -- and then sunk into nothingness -- by Old Media money and visons.

Oct 23, 2006

Who d'ya like in the election?

Sticking one's nose into politics is a good way to stir the pot. It must be that we had such an urge to go grab some kitchen utensils and do just that, as seen by our official Tech Valley Times election endorsements, over on the main portal. As usual, opening our big mouths is sure to raise some controversy. Our reply: good.

Don't be bashful -- tell us what you think.

Oct 21, 2006

Joe Bruno's pretzel logic

I must have been given the wrong address yesterday. Or maybe it was the right place at the wrong time? Whatever the problem, it sure seemed like the wrong press conference.

The invitation said "come on down" to the College of Saint Rose and hear all about a new geology classroom. That sounded good; I'd been meaning to catch up with the good folks down there in Albany and this presented the perfect excuse to stop by.

But what I got was some guy going ballistic up on the podium talking about ... pretzels!.

That guy was none other than our own Uncle Joe, the good Senator Bruno, spewing forth fearful threats about what a disaster it will be to the Capital Region if --heaven forbid-- the Democrats take over his chamber in the upcoming elections. He mentioned something about waking up that morning and immediately hearing some comment that got him all worked up. Those in the audience wished he had reacted by hitting the snooze button and going back to bed instead of taking it out on them.

The fear (or threat), of course, is that the Albany area will no longer enjoy the windfall of state money that Uncle Joe has been able to throw its way for various economic development, community service and infrastructure projects since he took over as majority leader eleven years ago. My notes quote him as saying:

"I was there 18 years watching the dollars flow to New York City and to Long Island. And what did we get here? Pretzels! I sat there in a corner and bided my time."

He also went on to defend the so called "three men in a room" process of governance in New York that is the subject of so much finger pointing by observers as being the core cause of the state being labeled as the most dysfunctional government in the country. You know: the land of late budgets, ineffective and out of date legislation, out of control spending (backdoor and otherwise) and unfunded mandates that are driving up local property taxes. But as long as the pork flows in the right direction (ie., to the home districts), we are expected to support the gate keepers of this funny farm.

And so goes what we can call the Voter's Paradox (or schizophrenia): "Sure, government spending is a runaway train that must be brought under control, but I expect my local legislator's primary role to be bringing that pork spending back home right here to me and the young 'uns!"

Pretzel logic! Any major dude will tell you that, my friend. So Rikki don't lose that number.

As long as that thinking rules, nothing will change. Joe's throne is likely safe.

Oct 19, 2006

AMD: don't panic yet

The rumor mill is abuzz with talk of the AMD @ Luther Forest deal possibly being in trouble. In fact, various outlets (including the Times Union and Tech Valley Times) are reporting off-the-record comments from officials within the various entities involved in the negotiations that all have an "AMD is asking for more" flavor to them.

It's not time to panic on this thing --- not yet, at least. Rather, this debris is what one should expect from such a sloppy, not quite completed deal that was rushed to the press conference stage for the benefit of various parties for reasons that needn't be analyzed in this forum today. But let's just relate that the word "premature" has come up a few times in conversations we've had with people working in that big stone building on top of State Street in recent days when discussing the status of this project.

But the good news is that AMD CEO Hector Ruiz is talking up the plant in a recent interview with Financial Times, as we reported yesterday on our main portal. After all, Mr. Ruiz was up there on that podium at Albany Nanotech with all the familiar local faces when those cameras were rolling. So he, too, has some credibility to protect here as well. Hopefully, they're just arguing over such issues as who sweeps the roads?

But consider this scenario: AMD ups the ante by demanding substantial additional incentives and the deal is still not closed by New Year's day. Wouldn't this present an interesting dilemma for the new Governor? You get the impression from his reaction comments that Eliot Spitzer thinks the deal as originally framed was about as far as the state should go and he would therefore be disinclined to throw more taxpayer money at the California company.

But if he says nyet, the Republicans will claim that he blew the deal that they had tee'd up.

Wouldn't that be the nuts? Let's hope we don't get there. Because as I said in an earlier post: no matter where you stood on this chip fab project beforehand -- even those of us that consider it as being mostly irrelevent to the Tech Valley initiative -- its falling apart now doesn't do anyone any good.

Oct 13, 2006

News Alert: race track is important!

My easiest grad school course was one called Economic Research Methods. It was so easy, I'm not sure I even bothered buying the text books for it -- a holdover trick from my undergrad days.

Surprisingly, though, I actually got something out of it. In this case, it was the retained knowledge of two key facts in regard to social science research:

1) You can pretty much make any poll or survey conclude anything you want it to conclude.

2) Economic impact studies are useless.

The second one comes to light this morning upon reading of a study concluding that the thoroughbred race track at Saratoga has a $213,700,000 impact on the Capital Region economy each year. Impressive, is it not? I wonder if they're counting my $300 annual contribution?

Having actually been involved in the preparation of these types of reports in a former life (yes, I shamefully admit such), I possess first hand knowledge of the various formulas, math models, input-output tables, multiplier effects and on and on and on that are utilized for coming up with a magic $$$ number that is placed front and center in the Executive Summary of these things. (Trust me: the Executive Summary is all that gets read by the recipients. ) And I can report that this process is not so much a science as one normnally defines the word science.

The fact is, unless you somehow had the magic ability to trace the path of each and every dollar bill involved (did someone say RFID chips?), one is taking a shot in the twlight with any attempt to put a hard figure on the concept of 'economic impact'. You'd be better off trying to put a dollar value on the concept of love.

But, for some reason the Saratoga County IDA felt a need to come up with such a figure, and for that privilege the county taxpayers are out $60,000. Does it really make a difference in the County's future policymaking if the number had been $100million, or $500million or $3billion? They would have been equally served by being told that the economic impact of the race track "is really BIG!" For that report, I would have only charged them $25.

My advice the next time you are presented a news piece of an economic impact analysis of a shopping plaza, community center, office tower or chip fab: turn the page to the next story.

Now, I just hope this doesn't get me tossed out of The Club --- or forces me to return the sheepskin....

Oct 9, 2006

Cliton Park as a model town

Here's a good one:

The New York State Association of Realtors has awarded its second annual smart growth and development award to....

Clifton Park.

No, that is not a misprint. I said Clifton Park, the land of chain restaurants and hotels, where nary a local business can be found among the hundreds of storefront retailers. The town of sub developments bordering sub developments, where each dreary house is indistinguishable from the next and whose central phychological focal point is a thiry-year old shopping mall. Do they still hold the high school prom in that mall? I could go on for hours.

Are these people that far out of touch with the most basic issues of modern day living? Do they even give a hoot? Or are they simply caught up riding the gravy train that feeds their bank accounts, figuring they just need to work a few more years and then retire to some island far, far away?

Oct 1, 2006

Hitting the mail bag

Let's use this blog to answer some TVT reader (aka Fan Club) mail that I've been neglecting for awhile....

1) To TR in Albany: I think the line that LBJ used was something like "I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination..." Let's go with that one for the position in question that you somehow think I would be qualified for and / or interested in. I am neither.

2) To TR in Albany (again): Gone on account of health issues. By the way, don't you have anything better to do than to write me?

3) To Irene in Albany: The development of the new website was an experience, to say the least. Your asking about it has given me the idea of making a feature story out of that process. I think we shall! Thanks for the brain shock -- I owe you a coffee at that place downstairs from your office.

4) To Peter in Latham: Yes, we're behind schedule in our "TVT 2.0" makeover. See the preceding question for some insight. There are other reasons, but this is not the forum. But, we're getting there and we will be a pretty neat little company when we're all done.

4) To Bill from Troy: We use Host Rocket for our web hosting. Highly recommended.

5) To LB from Down Yonder: We're looking for a gathering spot where we can convene our meetings every one to two months. An announcement about what we're up to should be forthcoming in a month or so.

6) To Lady C from Schenectady: Yeah, we know, the site needs a creative touch. The plan was, and is, to get the funcional aspects of it going first and then swoop back to make it look pretty. We remain on that track.

7) To Walt: No; they're out. We'll bring that function back in-house.

8) To TR in Albany (one more time): No, that kooky guy is not associated with us -- an ally, but not anyone here. Like you, though, I do enjoy reading him! It sure looks like you DON'T have anything better to do, doesn't it?

There, I hope that was productive.