Nearly every key decision-maker in Onondaga County packed Allyn Hall at Onondaga County Community College Thursday afternoon in anticipation of President Joe Biden’s arrival.
Biden was in the region to herald Micron’s $100 billion investment in Central New York — four semiconductor plants and 9,000 jobs over the next 20 years — and to trumpet the return of manufacturing to the United States.
With the Syracuse University law school graduate’s return as the main attraction, the visit signified a shift, a larger moment, in Central New York.
“There’s a lot to be excited about. There really is,” Biden said as he closed out his remarks Thursday. “We use the word all the time: transformational. This is transformational.”
The speakers before Biden on Thursday — and in the weeks after Micron’s announcement — have tried to capture that shift.
Sen. Chuck Schumer and County Executive Ryan McMahon have both called Micron’s arrival an “Erie Canal moment.” Centerstate CEO president Rob Simpson at Micron’s announcement earlier this month likened it to General Electric coming to the area.
On Thursday, Simpson and McMahon seized on the stories Syracuse and Central New York tell about themselves.
Simpson recalled old narratives of brain drain, a struggling downtown and empty buildings. McMahon brought up the collective “chip” on the region’s shoulder. He talked of Central New Yorkers who have grown used to companies leaving and the close, painful calls of new investment.
Thursday’s event with Schumer and Biden, two of the country’s most powerful politicians, validated the image local leaders have tried to sell, even before Micron’s decision to invest here.
“For the first time, any government leader in our role can look at any kid in our county and look them in the eye and say, ‘Your future is in Onondaga County and America’s future is in Onondaga County,'” McMahon said.
Perhaps the least-heralded speaker, master electrician Shawni Davis, best embodied the hope Micron’s investment has imbued in Central New York.
Davis already owns her own contracting business and is the first Black woman master electrician in IBEW 43. She introduced the president and kicked off the event.
Leaders have said for weeks they hope Micron’s investment spurs equity and provides opportunity to people of color in Central New York.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Kathy Hochul released a list of the commitments Micron made in its community benefits agreement.
Many of them aim to build the skills of the county’s workforce, particularly people of color. Some provisions require Micron to contract with minority- and women-owned businesses.
Davis’ message to Thursday’s crowd was that an investment like Micron’s makes it more likely that others can and will follow in her footsteps.
“A person that looks like them can be a part of rebuilding our city, our state, our country,” she said.
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