Rensselaer alumni speak at Troy 100 Forum

Troy community development forum also features former RPI vice president Coblentz

FORMER RENSSELAER CHIEF OF STAFF AND ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT FOR POLICY AND PLANNING LABAN COBLENTZ DISCUSSES the Tech Valley Center of Gravity, a makerspace in Troy. Various other speakers also talked about improvements to Troy’s attractiveness to businesses and startups.

On Monday, May 12, the Troy 100 Forum was held in the Heffner Alumni House. Keynote speakers included former Rensselaer Chief of Staff and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning Laban Coblentz, James Peterson ’12, Colleen Costello ’12, and Columbia Development Companies’ Thomas Keaney. The forum focused on ideas for improving Troy.

The Troy 100 Forum, created in 2000, is held twice a year. Community members—including small business owners in Troy, city officials, and other Troy residents—were present to share their thoughts and learn what was going onv. Several RPI students and alumni were also present. An hour of networking was scheduled prior to the speakers’ presentations. Interspersed with the keynote speeches were “one-minute moments,” where community members made announcements and shared information about events and projects going on.

In a short speech before the keynote speakers,Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia noted that the Troy 100 Forum brings up new ideas for people to be aware of. Coblentz later spoke about the Tech Valley Center of Gravity, a makerspace downtown at Fourth and Fulton Streets, and its move to the old Quackenbush building, which will occur this fall. Renovations started May 28. Makerspaces such as the Center of Gravity, Coblentz explained, are a community resource. They are shared spaces with tools and equipment. Classes and workshops are held at the Center of Gravity, and people can come to the makerspace to learn a new skill or develop a new product. Coblentz claimed the Center of Gravity helps keep young professionals in Troy, noting that it has grown a great deal since it started in 2013.

Coblentz stressed that the Center of Gravity is not just for entrepreneurs, but for the community as a whole. He said that the Center of Gravity has over 180 members and 26 participating companies. Members pay a monthly fee, which varies with their student status and whether they volunteer for the organization. According to Coblentz, “We are rebranding the town” as a new way to do business.

Rensselaer graduates Peterson and Costello were the next keynote speakers. They have worked together to create a new product to lessen incidences of hospital-acquired infections. Costello said that they have received support from RPI’s Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship to pursue the creation of their company, Vital Vio. Costello was a biomedical engineering major at RPI and concerned about hospital infections, while Peterson was an electrical engineering major at RPI working on color changing LEDs. According to them, the Center of Gravity housed them as they got off the ground, and helped them obtain space downtown when they were ready to expand. The lights the two developed kill bacteria using a particular spectrum of light which is close to ultraviolet. This spectrum of light causes damage to germs while being safe for long term human contact, and is similar enough to white light to be able to be used for general applications. Costello called them “smarter lights for safer hospitals.” The lights are more expensive than regular lights, but Peterson and Costello have been selling them to hospitals.

Keaney was the final keynote speaker. He spoke about plans to renovate Proctor’s Theatre in downtown Troy and showed the community some of the ideas he and Columbia Development had. Keaney stressed that he wanted to listen to the community for this project.

The next Troy 100 Forum is on Monday, October 20, 2014, likely in Russell Sage College’s Bush Memorial Hall.