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Politics and Government

2 years later, still no Microsoft ‘smart cities’ tech hub in Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media (file photo)
The Microsoft announcement in 2019. From left to right, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Common Council President Helen Hudson with representatives from SU's iSchool and Microsoft.

Two years ago, Microsoft selected the city of Syracuse for a new “smart cities” technology hub to be located downtown. It was meant to analyze city data, help startup tech companies and provide workforce training.

But the pandemic hit and the plans never came to be. Now, the Syracuse Common Council is asking the mayor’s administration for an update on the tech hub, and they’re holding up a new contract with Microsoft until they get answers.

Mayor Ben Walsh wants to spend half a million dollars of federal stimulus funding to upgrade the city to Microsoft 365 with cloud-hosted email and the latest Office applications. But with no progress having been made on the Microsoft smart city hub, Councilor-at-Large Michael Greene said it’s an opportune time to ask the company if it plans to follow through.

“The main announcement in 2019 was that there would be a physical location Microsoft would do,” Greene said. “Ideally, that’s what we would still have. But there may be opportunities where there’s other economic development initiatives they could take. But I think there should be something, or at least there should be an update on where that stands.”

Mayor Walsh said the pandemic disrupted every industry, but he expects Microsoft to live up to their commitment.

“For one of the largest corporations in the world to identify Syracuse as a place where they want to invest, because they see how we’re working together, they see the investments we’re making in smart cities technologies, that is a significant feather in our cap,” Walsh said.

In an update given to the Council, the Walsh administration outlined the status of the promises Microsoft made. Some are in progress. Others, like the physical presence in Syracuse for Microsoft staff, have not been started.

Greene said COVID is not a legitimate excuse for why some of the items are not done. He’s holding the Microsoft 365 legislation until he gets more answers. The administration is meeting with Microsoft next month to develop a one-year action plan.