Fish farm proposal seeks public aid
Economic Council endorses jobs potential
GLEN A New York City-based company is proposing to build a $65 million fish farm in the Glen Canal View Business Park, creating 175 jobs and producing more than 17 million pounds of fish annually for commercial sale.
The 840,000-square-foot facility would sprawl over 130 acres and house tanks and other specialized equipment to grow fish on a mass-production scale. By comparison, the nearby Target distribution center measures about 2 million square feet.
Jason Conwall, senior press officer for Empire State Development, said the project would likely be phased in over several years. The initial project would cost $65 million and could expand to two additional facilities in the Mohawk Valley region, bringing the total project cost to $160 million, he said.
The Glen Canal facility would be one of the biggest commercial fish-growing facilities in the state and would provide a tremendous boost to the budding aquaculture industry, said Ted Universal, president of the New York State Aquaculture Association. “I am pleased to hear someone is going into this in a big way. Every state in the United States is pushing aquaculture except New York. We are being held up with fishing regulations, which are being used in a lot of cases to determine what people could do in aquaculture.”
The Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council is recommending the project, which it calls “Project Aqua,” be a priority in the second round of consolidated funding applications from the state. The company that would build the facility is called TechMar NY LLC. State officials said the company consists of investors from New York City.
Wally Hart, a member of the regional council’s board, said it endorsed the project because it would create sustainable jobs. “It is a regionally significant project that fits in with our goals. The jobs were of great interest to us, as was the use of water and fish for production,” he said. “If they can come forward with their financing and we are able to put the project together, it would be a win-win all the way around.”
Hart said aquaculture is an emerging business concept for the area. “This is something very new as far as growing something that is sustainable,” he said. The regional council is recommending the state provide Project Aqua with $4 million in Excelsior tax credits, $2.5 million in Empire State Development grants and $100,000 in state Department of Labor grants to launch the effort. The company would provide the remaining funds through its own sources.
Hart said the council gave Project Aqua 20 points, the highest priority it can award. This makes the project eligible for $25 million that will be given to priority projects in the region. There also is $542 million in state funds available statewide.
State agency resource teams, representing various agencies that provide funding, will also score projects with up to 80 points. The higher the application’s score, the stronger its chance of receiving state funding. The state will decide later this year which projects to fund.
Conwall said the council’s recommendation does not guarantee funding. But the priority score does send a message that the project is transformational for the region, he said.
He said the company would have to reach certain goals in order to receive state funding and grants, part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fresh emphasis on accountability for economic development projects. “All funding from the state is performance-based. The company has to hit goals, whether it is job creation, whether it is expenditure of funds, or whether it is the acquisition of equipment, to qualify for state aid,” he said.
In addition, the company has to spend money to receive state grants. “This ensures our state resources are more well spent,” Conwall said. The company would have, on average, 10 years to hit state targets, he said.
Under the previous Empire Zone program, which Excelsior replaced, if the state gave out money and the company did not hit its goals, the state often had problems recouping its investment, he said. With the Excelsior program, the credits are there to provide an incentive for the project to move forward.
Universal said aquaculture has a potential to be a huge business in the state. “It is definitively viable because the demand for fresh fish is constant all the time. The bigger grocery stores have seafood counters and sell all different species of fish and clams,” he said.
There are also spin-offs to the project at the retail level and agricultural level, he said. Retail stores could add staff to handle the demand for fresh fish and TechMar could sell fish waste to farmers for fertilizer.
The size of the proposed TechMar facility is necessary for economies of scale. “You have to have an element of size to make any money because the more fish you can produce, the lower your cost per fish,” Universal said.
Fish grown in aquaculture facilities offer a level of safety not found in fish caught in the wild, Universal said. The state, for example, recommends people limit their consumption of fish caught in the Mohawk River to one meal per month.
Fish grown in the proposed TechMar facility would not be exposed to the contaminants found in the Mohawk River. “All the water in the aquaculture facility would be monitored, tested and managed. The operators would determine the quality of water, which would determine the quality of the fish,” Universal said.