From Fur-Trading to Nanotechnology

Photograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

President Barack Obama, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, with a silicon wafer at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at State University of New York at Albany's Nano-Tech complex, on May 8, 2012.

“Oh, Albany!”

That was the name of a history penned by William Kennedy, the novelist perhaps better known for his riveting fiction — including an Albany trilogy that included the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Ironweed.”  (If you missed the book, you may have caught the movie, a 1987 production starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep — he was nominated for best leading actor, she for best supporting actress.)

President Barack Obama traveled there today to celebrate the progress of  nanotechnology in the capital city region.

Think of it as a hat-tip to Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who greeted the president at the airport. People stood in a relentless rain for this event, including Gerald Jennings, the mayor of Albany.

This is no Ohio, no Virginia — New York does not swing-vote; it has gone Democratic in seven of the last 10 presidential elections (Ronald Reagan won twice, and Richard Nixon in ’72), while the voters who inhabit the Mohawk and Hudson River valleys that converge near Albany tend to lean more Republican.

It’s sort of like the trip that Obama made not long ago to neighboring Schenectady, the place where General Electric is making a new generation of batteries and even some good old turbines that turn the electrical generators, albeit with only a fraction of the workforce in the tens of thousands after World War II that made it “the city that lights the world.” GE CEO Jeff Immelt is chairman of the White House jobs council.  (The good workers of Schenectady appeared in the GE  TV ads about pride in American manufacturing  that made their debut during the last Super Bowl.)

It’s a good stage to promote policy.

Even if the economy is still struggling.

Weakening consumer confidence is hurting sales at businesses like Tops American Grill, Bakery & Bar in Schenectady, Bloomberg News reported last week, as the Labor Department noted the slowest gain in new jobs in six months. Evan Christou, the owner, said he has no plans to bolster his staff of 42. He said it would take a significant increase in sales for a sustained period before hiring more workers. “We’re kind of consolidating and multitasking,” said Christou, 49. “In this market, it’s pretty much a wait-and-see attitude.”

Obama is talking about the economy today at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York at Albany. It’s part of a NanoTech Complex fostering research and development.

He will talk “about some of the things that Congress should and must do to help the economy grow and create jobs,” White House  press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday. Obama will introduce a five-point “to-do l ist” for lawmakers, including offering companies a tax credit for moving their manufacturing back to the U.S. and making it easier for homeowners to refinance, according to an administration official who requested anonymity to speak about the proposal in advance of the formal announcement.

What better place than Albany, founded by the Dutch in 1624, originally a fur trading post named Fort Orange, as Kennedy noted in his book. The English renamed it Albany. It is one of the oldest chartered cities in North America.

From fur-trading to nanotechnology, now there’s a history lesson about survival.

Kennedy, a professor in the English department at SUNY at Albany and founding director of the New York State Writers Institute, may be taking notes. There’s surely a sequel in the  political trilogy that started with “Legs” and “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game.”

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