County Executive Ryan McMahon and Micron executive Scott Gatzemeier speak to those who attended an open forum about Micron's potential impacts on Central New York. Credit: Chris Libonati | libonati@centralcurrent.org

Micron executives and county officials answered their first questions from the public about the company’s $100 billion investment in Central New York on Monday night.

County Executive Ryan McMahon led a 90-minute question-and-answer period alongside other officials at Clay Town Hall.

More than 200 community members showed up for the forum. They asked how Micron will affect Clay and the region. Most questions centered around traffic, Micron’s commitment to the region and how it’ll affect taxes in the area.

Micron announced earlier in October its plans to invest $100 billion in Central New York over the next 20 years. The company will put at least four chip fabrication plants on more than 1,200 acres of land in Clay. County officials have estimated that Micron will employ 9,000 people and support another 40,000 jobs in the community.

Another 5,000 people will work construction jobs on those facilities. 

A panel including the following people answered questions at the event:

  • Ryan McMahon, Onondaga County executive
  • Bob Petrovich, director of Onondaga County economic development
  • Damian Ulatowski, town of Clay supervisor
  • April Arnzen, Micron chief people officer and president of the Micron Foundation
  • Scott Gatzemeier, Micron corporate vice president of front end U.S. expansion
  • Joe Nehme, regional director for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Central New York office
  • Jon Cardinal, director of economic development for Schumer

McMahon promised there will be more meetings throughout the county where residents can discuss the project’s impact with officials. 

Here’s an overview on the key topics McMahon and others discussed Monday night. 

Commitment to CNY

For much of the forum, the officials answered simple questions.

Attendee Darlene Piper, however, pushed the panelists when she stepped to the podium and shared a bleak prediction: “It’s a nice sales pitch … 20 years and you’re gone. That’s what I’m thinking.” 

Gatzemeier, the Micron vice president, countered Piper’s prediction. He told the crowd the first facility will cost $25 billion and 20% of the equipment’s cost comes just from installation.

“Once we’re here,” Gatzemeier said, “we’re here.” 

He referenced how the company has also committed 40 years to Boise, where it is headquartered.

Operating costs here in the U.S. are comparable to the company’s investments in Asia, Gatzemeier said. That’s because of the tax incentives created to push Micron to invest in the United States combined with proximity to resources such as water and power.

Arnzen, another Micron executive, outlined other reasons Micron believed in Central New York. Upstate universities and colleges including Syracuse, Clarkson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Rochester Institute of Technology provide a rich talent pool, she said.

Micron also intends to invest in workforce development. She highlighted Onondaga Community College as a potential partner for an apprenticeship program. Arnzen anticipated students would be able to attend OCC while working at Micron. 

The push for workforce development by Micron comes at a time the company expects a “tight talent market,” Arnzen said. 

The federal government and state governments have built enticing incentives packages that will boost the number of chip fabrication plants looking for employees. At the same time, Micron expects demand for semiconductors and memory to double.  

Arnzen and McMahon emphasized that the jobs created at Micron will be here in 20 years and parroted a similar refrain from past press conferences: That kids not even born yet will be able to work at Micron in the future.   

“These jobs are for our kids,” McMahon said. 

Traffic

Traffic, particularly on routes 31 and 11, was among the biggest concerns raised by residents who attended the meeting. 

McMahon said the county had already reviewed the effects on traffic for a “mega-employer” — one that has 3,800 to 4,000 employees — before Micron committed to the region. Now, the county will revise the information based on updated plans from Micron. 

When Micron announced its investment, New York State also committed $200 million toward transportation in the region, particularly around road infrastructure. 

McMahon said additional reviews of Micron’s impact could take until about the second quarter of 2023. 

The county executive noted near the beginning of the forum that many of the questions the county received beforehand were about traffic. He said that routes 31 and 11 already back up with traffic. 

“I’ve got news for you,” McMahon said. “That problem wasn’t getting solved quickly by the state of New York until Micron said they’re coming to the town of Clay and so now as part of that project, we have to address these challenges.” 

An initial environmental review based on the generic employer identified some solutions, however, those could change based on information Micron provides the county. 

“There’ll be phasing but now we have the catalyst to get the state investment to address these issues quickly,” McMahon said. “Eventually they would’ve gotten addressed but not like they will right now because we have to.” 

Traffic on Caughdenoy Road, a county-owned road, was the source of a number of other questions for McMahon. The county still needs to study traffic on Caughdenoy Road. McMahon did not know yet whether it needs to be expanded to four lanes. 

McMahon also said supply chain companies landing in Central New York to be near Micron could also change how the state and the county change roads to account for traffic. 

Taxes 

McMahon said he does not expect taxes to jump despite the land speculation the county has seen in Clay, Cicero and Lysander. 

Land in those three municipalities has already sold, often at higher than expected prices, McMahon said. 

He used the county, which cut its tax rate this year, as an example.

“We could’ve moved our tax levy $8 million and your tax bill would’ve stayed the same because we had $8 million in growth in the assessment countywide,” McMahon said. “We didn’t need it.” 

The day after Micron announced its investment in Central New York, Moody’s, a bond credit rating business, changed its outlook on Onondaga County, according to McMahon. It projected the county could see its tax base increase 9% year over year, up from 2%, he said. 

The county executive joked that Micron will subsidize Clay’s fire district and the town’s library.

“This is not going to be a scenario where the company and the companies coming here and the new houses and the new apartments, the new businesses getting built, the Great Northern Mall that’s going to be redeveloped, are going to be draining you for tax dollars,” McMahon said. “Absolutely the opposite. If your elected leaders are going to raise taxes while they’re growing at 8-9%, you’re going to have to handle that the old fashioned way at the ballot box.” 

Ulatowski, the town supervisor, noted to the crowd that he had not increased the town’s tax rate in the last three years. 

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Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.