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Microsoft puts Syracuse tech hub on hold but is giving $500K ‘skills’ grant for city residents – syracuse.com

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Microsoft is providing a $500,000 grant to promote digital literacy in Syracuse and help residents prepare for in-demand jobs. (Rick Moriarty | rmoriarty@syracuse.com)
Syracuse, N.Y. — Microsoft has put the brakes on plans to build a tech hub in Syracuse, but it is providing a $500,000 grant to help give city residents the skills to build careers in the digital-driven new economy.
The Skills for Jobs and Livelihoods grant from Microsoft Philanthropies will be used to teach residents digital skills such as better navigating online services and gaining access to careers in software-related fields. Programs funded by the grant will focus on residents in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
“By expanding access to digital skills, supporting small businesses, and accelerating the startup ecosystem, we are expanding opportunity,” Naria Santa Lucia, Microsoft general manager for digital inclusion and U.S. community engagement, said in a statement Friday. “We are excited to work with the Syracuse community to drive digital literacy and workforce training programs needed for in-demand jobs.”
The software giant announced a “digital alliance” with the city in 2019, saying it would establish a “Smart Cities Technology” hub as part of Mayor Ben Walsh’s Syracuse Surge plan to bolster the regional economy with high-tech jobs.
Microsoft said it has not ruled out building a physical hub in Syracuse at some point but has decided in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that it can have the best impact by funding programs that give residents the digital skills they need for successful careers.
“Microsoft is proud to be partnering with the city and community,” the company said in a statement released by a spokesman on Wednesday.
“The pandemic changed the nature of work for all of us, and we realize that we can best help the community by supporting and skilling the workforce of the future and investing in Syracuse’s talent pipeline. In addition to supporting staff based in Syracuse, this grant will expand access to digital skills, support small businesses, and accelerate the local startup ecosystem.”
The $500,000 grant is just the first of those efforts in Syracuse, according to the company.
In addition to teaching residents such things as software writing, the grant will support CenterState CEO’s Syracuse Surge Accelerator at The Tech Garden downtown, said Dominic Robinson, vice president of economic inclusion at the economic development and business leadership organization.
The accelerator will provide work space and support services to help entrepreneurs of color start and grow technology companies. It is due to launch in the fall. Black and Latino entrepreneurs, in particular, have been underrepresented in the tech industry and often lack the financial resources to launch their own companies, Robinson said.
The grant will also support an apprenticeship program. This summer, people with low- to moderate-incomes and from groups such as members of minority communities and women will be placed in internships with local tech companies, he said.
Jennifer Tifft, director of strategic initiatives for the city, said the grant will also fund a fellowship program to support Syracuse’s “smart city” technology infrastructure initiatives.
Rick Moriarty covers business news and consumer issues. Got a tip, comment or story idea? Contact him anytime: Email | Twitter | Facebook | 315-470-3148
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