SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse has been awarded a massive private grant from one of the world’s biggest banks to kickstart its tech sector, train its workers for 21st century careers and make sure minorities, women and veterans are among those who benefit from huge investments being made in economic development here.
Syracuse beat out nearly 250 other cities to win a $3 million grant from JPMorgan Chase -- a major victory for a mid-sized city competing with places like New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.
The grant is one of the largest of its kind in city history, and the most significant private investment yet in Mayor Ben Walsh’s sprawling economic development strategy, dubbed the Syracuse Surge.
Officials will announce the grant details during a news conference Thursday morning.
For local officials, the money is not only a catalyst for spurring tech industry growth, it’s validation that their plans to push Syracuse’s economy into the 21st century are on the right track.
“You have an independent set of eyes looking in at your community and the direction you’re trying to take it and they think it’s worth investing in,” said Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon. “They’ve seen every other community of substance throughout our country...that has me more excited than the fact that the money’s coming in."
The grant comes with few strings attached and will be used solely for strategic planning, workforce training and programming. None of it will be spent on planned Surge infrastructure, like the massive overhaul of Central Tech into a new countywide high school.
The grant was awarded several weeks ago to CenterState CEO, a regional economic development agency. CenterState led a joint application along with the city, the county, Syracuse University, Le Moyne College and the Allyn Foundation.
CenterState requested the money to complement the Syracuse Surge, Walsh’s plan to transform Syracuse into a national leader in tech infrastructure and an active incubator for tech companies. The strategy puts an emphasis on job training, education and connecting small, tech-focused businesses with resources and funding to thrive.
In its application, CenterState projects the grant will be used to assist 50 small businesses, increase small business revenue by $20 million over three years, create or retain 100 small business jobs and provide skills training and job placement for 700 people.
The average projected salary for someone participating in the training programs created from the grant is $42,000.
Among other things, the grant money will be used to scale up CenterState’s Work Train program with an emphasis on the tech sector. Work Train partners with businesses to identify skills needed for their workforce, then provides job specific training for residents.
The money will also bolster Erie 21, a Le Moyne College initiative geared toward training young people for tech jobs.
Primarily, the grant is intended to make sure the expected expansion of the tech economy here benefits people from vulnerable communities -- those who are often under-represented in the tech industry or left behind by past economic development projects. That includes minorities, women and veterans.
Walsh said it’s not enough to just invest in development then hope the new jobs benefit everyone. This money allows the city to train people for the upcoming boom of tech jobs Walsh hopes to spur. It also provides money for community outreach.
“We were very intentional in talking about these task forces we’re creating to ensure that those that we want to benefit from this have a seat at the table,” Walsh said. “We need to engage the community throughout this process.”
JPMorgan Chase awarded five $3 million grants through its AdvancingCities program this year. Syracuse is the smallest recipient, by far. The other winners are Louisville, Miami, Chicago and San Diego.
In all, 254 cities applied for the grants. The company plans to dole out $500 million over five years to foster economic opportunity and drive inclusive growth.
Dominic Robinson, vice president of economic inclusion for CenterState CEO, helped organize the six different partners involved in the grant application. Since Syracuse would be competing with major cities nationwide, he said, it was important to present a united front of public officials, major institutions and non-for-profits.
“We were punching above our weight class,” he said.
Irene Baker, head of JPMorgan Chase’s AdvancingCities program, led the selection process for the grants. She said Syracuse managed to get everyone together in one room, and on the same page, when interviewing for the grant. That made a difference.
Baker said the selection committee sought cities that could clearly identify a specific issue and demonstrate joint efforts already underway to address it. Syracuse’s special attention to inclusion and equity in its application helped set us apart.
“They are bringing a very purposeful equity lens to their planning process,” Baker said. “Knowing they’re going to have all this infrastructure investment, public and private, in traditionally low income communities and downtown, they’re going about it in a very purposeful, thoughtful way.”
Both Baker and JPMorgan Chase have ties to Central New York.
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was the Syracuse University commencement speaker in 2010. The bank co-founded the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at SU and awarded $13.8 million to the IVMF in 2016 to fund programming.
Baker formerly worked in economic development for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She helped establish his Regional Economic Development Councils. During that time, she met CenterState President Rob Simpson.
The grant money will be doled out over three years. Officials said they hope to use it to leverage more money, both public and private, for the Surge.
Robinson said Syracuse is poised to become a destination for diverse tech businesses. In 2021, he plans to use grant money to host a tech conference at the Oncenter to showcase Syracuse as a hub for tech founders and entrepreneurs.