Cyber Jobs Flourish in New York Region
Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) can be bad news for affected communities. In areas where military bases are closed or consolidated, the loss of personnel and supporting business, as well as the need to find a new use for closed military facilities, can be a drain on the local community.
The decision of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission to close Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY had the opposite effect on the Mohawk Valley region. Located in upstate New York and home to nearly one million, Mohawk Valley is anchored by the cities of Rome and Utica, as well as a number of small communities, all nestled between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.
With the closing of the base, the community put increased emphasis on attracting defense business to support the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and created a vibrant business park on the site of the former military base.
“We’ve grown the cluster,” said Mary Rizzo Bonney, vice president of marketing and communications for the Mohawk Valley Economic Development Growth Enterprises Corporation (EDGE). “The business park is operating under a master plan and we’ve used that vision to grow the park.”
Today Griffiss Business and Technology Park is one of the most successful business parks in the nation, home to more than 90 companies and 6,000 employees in a variety of business sectors, including aviation, distribution and logistics and education.
AFRL is the anchor of the region, with a $284,358,928 annual economic impact and increasing opportunities in cyber, nanotechnology and other emerging areas of research and technology. The lab employs almost 700 civilians, 70 active-duty military and approximately 500 contract engineers. But its impact across the region in promoting defense industry growth and jobs is even more significant.
“AFRL is the anchor asset that has created this cluster in the Mohawk Valley,” said Mary Carol Chruscicki, executive director of the Central New York Defense Alliance. “The community fought very hard to keep the research lab here. As the anchor, we have been able to form this really strong cluster in the region of information technology and information security.”
The defense industry has remained so strong, in fact, that in 15 years of surveys the region has not seen a decline in the number of employees in the cyber industry, said Bonney.
Professionals in the region include transplants attracted by government and contract opportunities at AFRL as well as locals from the area’s rich IT talent pool, generated by eleven local colleges and universities and promoted by area defense contractors, who retain talented grads through competitive internship opportunities.
Defense contractors in the area include international companies such as BAE Systems and ITT Corporation, as well as smaller companies such as Assured Information Security (AIS), which got its start in Mohawk Valley.
“There is a lot of opportunity and entrepreneurism in the Mohawk Valley,” said Bonney. “We incubate them and help foster them.”
A key part of the partnership between government and industry takes place through the Griffiss Institute, a 501(c)(3) entity governed by a board of directors. Its primary goal is to foster partnership between the government lab, private industry and academia. Because of the cutting edge research taking place at AFRL, the lab owns intellectual property that it is able to license to industry for commercialization, said Bill Wolf, director of the Griffiss Institute.
The Griffiss Institute is the intermediary that helps take that technology and spin it out to industry under cooperative research and development agreements. Innovations from latex paint to CDs and memory chips have all come out of research at AFRL.
A low-cost of living and good quality of life are also noted as encouraging new business investment in the area. Whether it’s advanced manufacturing, bioscience or cybersecurity, a variety of business sectors combine to support job growth and research innovation. Some of the most cutting edge technology, including nanotechnology and micro-chip manufacturing, are moving forward in Mohawk Valley.
“Affordability allows the entrepreneurial seed to grow,” said Wolf, who said he’s seen a number of small and independent businesses grow out of AFRL.
In addition to supporting industry innovation, the Griffiss Institute works with local universities to increase course offerings in cyber areas. They also provide training courses and exams for in-demand security certifications such as the CISSP.
Work, play, and major cities a short drive away
For many who come to the Mohawk Valley region for work, the quiet lifestyle and easy access to major cities keeps them there. Both Rome and Utica make ideal places to work and play. The area offers great skiing and outdoor activities and is just a four-or five-hour drive from New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal. While many enjoy the six-minute commute to Griffiss Park from Rome, others drive from as far away as Rochester and Syracuse. Easy travel makes for a mile-a-minute commute time.
The Mohawk Valley has been cited as one of the best housing values in the northeast, with money going farther and home prices remaining more stable than the rest of the country. The median home price is just $91,950, and salaries for cleared cyber and IT experts are competitive.
The nature of work done at AFRL makes the area attractive for cleared professionals, especially those with cyber skills.
“Because of the rich educational opportunities and the emphasis on cyber degrees and careers, the Mohawk Valley is really growing a base of cyber talent,” said Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com. “But with so many positions requiring a security clearance, and the demand high for cybersecurity professionals with experience, the area is also attracting cleared veterans and professionals open to relocating.