New York state boasts a long and illustrious history as a manufacturing empire. As did other Rust Belt states, however, it suffered a devastating decline beginning in the 1970s, when manufacturers moved to the U.S. South, Mexico and other foreign countries to take advantage of cheaper labor, lower taxes and fewer regulations. Globalization and the Great Recession forced further factory closings. Manufacturing jobs statewide, numbering more than 2 million in the mid-1940s, plummeted to less than 500,000 in 2009, according to the state's Manufacturing Research Institute.
Despite current political rhetoric to the contrary, the majority of those factories and jobs aren't coming back. In 2000, New York's Department of Labor identified 23,814 manufacturing establishments, employing 745,585 workers. By the third quarter of 2015, preliminary reports counted 17,103 manufacturers and 454,636 employees.
Nonetheless, over the past decade or so, New York has made strategic — and gigantic — investments and implemented enticing economic development programs, including tax subsidies, grants, loans and other attractive lures. Indeed, New York beat out other states vying for the SolarCity gigafactory. Rive declined to comment on the particulars, stating only that "the scope of New York's offer was instrumental in making our decision."
The technology behind the next-generation solar panels SolarCity will produce in Buffalo — developed by Silevo, a start-up it acquired in 2014 — incorporates advances in nanoscience, a burgeoning field that New York has zeroed in on as a source for its manufacturing revival.
Its economic development unit, Empire State Development, has established a long-term, multibillion-dollar game plan to attract nanotechnology manufacturers to make not only solar panels but also semiconductors, pharmaceuticals and other products from very small materials (there are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch). Buffalo Billion is one of three initiatives under way upstate — the others are in Albany and Utica — all being managed by SUNY Poly.