Kate O'Connell

Reporter, Innovation Trail, Finger Lakes

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail

Kate O’Connell comes to WXXI from Melbourne, Australia, and studied journalism at Royal Melboure Institute of Technology.

During her studies, Kate was a freelance journalist, reporting from Nepal and Haiti, and worked with the media team of the United Nations partner group, International Organization for Migration.

Kate's experience also includes work for the Shepparton News, Australian Broadcasting Company, Melbourne’s Channel 31, RRR radio and WIN television.

Ways To Connect

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Two years after its enactment, a New York state law governing the recycling of electronic waste is making an impact according to a progress report.

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Four hospitals in upstate New York have been given poor grades and put on a "watch list" by a private health care watchdog group.

The Niagara Health Quality Coalition has been ranking New York state’s best and worst hospitals for a decade, and the latest report card released on Sunday shows a mixed bag in upstate New York.

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Ontario County is moving forward with the privatization of its nursing home. The board of supervisors voted last week to accept a $2 million bid for the Hopewell facility, but concerns remain about the level of care a private owner would provide.

The sale makes Ontario the latest in a string of counties in upstate New York looking to privatization as a solution to the rising costs of operating a nursing home.

Steuben, Chautauqua, and Onondaga Counties are among many considering or finalizing the sale of county facilities to private operators.

International Joint Commission

A federal program dedicated to environmental restoration and cleaning up of the Great Lakes has escaped a massive budget cut. A committee in the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to amend a bill that looked to slash the program’s funding, partially restoring it to $210 million for fiscal year 2014.

The House bill originally aimed to cut 80 percent of the program’s budget, from nearly $300 million to just $60 million for next year.

A House committee has since revised that figure from $60 million to $210 million.

Kevin Maloney

After more than a decade of development, Cornell University has introduced two new apple varieties to upstate New York.

Previously known as New York one and two, the new RubyFrost and SnapDragon varieties were named Thursday and will be available to consumers as early as this fall.

The Daily Refresher

As people increasingly stray from mass-produced products, demand is growing for locally produced food, wine and beer. In upstate New York this trend is spilling over into the field of craft distilleries, and the state is seeing a comeback of the small, artisan liquor operations of the pre-Prohibition era.

From the Adirondacks to the Hudson Valley, and down to New York City, dozens of micro-distilleries are popping up.

In western New York, Jason Barrett is adding another operation to the ranks.

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A math workshop designed in upstate New York has received a $120,000 grant to advance the model nationally.

The Rochester Institute of Technology's annual Summer Mathematics Institute Teachers’ Workshop aims to share strong stories about math in the real world to high school teachers.

The workshops bring together teachers to hear how professionals use math in a variety of careers ranging from baseball to counter-terrorism, engineering and cancer research.

Kate O'Connell/Innovation Trail

Upstate company Qmetrics has developed technology that can take medical images like MRIs and turn them into a three-dimensional image or model.

The technology has implications for lowering health care costs and increasing patient-specific treatments.

While X-rays and MRIs can be useful, surgery is still frequently required to look inside a joint, explains Qmetrics CEO Edward Schreyer. For example, keyhole surgery or arthroscopy is still used to see the extent of a knee injury.

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According to estimates from the state’s Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), about 40 percent of electricity in the U.S. is consumed by office buildings. One upstate company, OLEDWorks, is developing technology that could help to lower this consumption.

The company’s developing organic LED technology, or OLEDs, as a more efficient alternative for lighting the nation’s office spaces.

Hill Cumorah Pageant, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

With 750 cast members, more than a thousand costumes, and special effects to rival a Hollywood film, the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which celebrates the history of the Mormon church, draws thousands of people to western New York each year.

They come in droves, from around the world, converging on the town of Palmyra to witness a Mormon spectacle taking place way off Broadway.

There’s a ten-level stage, a burning at the stake, and cast members descending on wires.

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As delays pile up in the implementation of components of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded $150 million to the nation’s health care centers as part of an outreach and enrollment program for patients with low incomes.

The grants will help centers provide advice regarding the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, and how it will affect people’s current health coverage as well as those who are currently uninsured.

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The organization responsible for regulating water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River is holding a series of public hearings in upstate New York and Canada this week, presenting a new management plan. The International Joint Commission, or IJC, attracted criticism for its last draft of the plan, called Bv7, which aimed to alter water levels to decrease environmental damage around the Great Lake.

Tourism Economics

According to new research, tourism spending rose across every region of New York state last year, with overall growth of more than six percent. Traveler spending reached a new high of nearly $60 billion statewide and upstate New York, in particular, did well.

The biggest areas for growth upstate were central New York, Niagara, and the Thousand Islands, with a bump of at least five percent in each region.

But Adam Sacks, lead author of the report and president of Tourism Economics, says the real indicator of the industry’s importance lies in job growth.

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Watson, the IBM supercomputer, is best known for its historic win on the television game show, Jeopardy. But, the same components that made the system a quiz show winner could be redirected toward lowering the cost of health care in upstate New York.

According to Steve Gold, vice president for IBM’s Watson Solutions division, the amount of available medical knowledge doubles every five years. While that can provide a challenge for individual physicians to keep up with, it’s something Watson thrives on.

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In 2010, dance instructor Katie Lunn was on her way home from the American Dance Awards when her SUV was struck at a crossing by a Chicago-bound Amtrak train, killing her.

“None of the warning signs had activated. No lights flashed, no bells rang and the gates stayed up. Katie had no idea that the crossing was inactive, and neither did the railroad.”

Tim Myers, a co-founder of RocInnovations, says Katie isn't an outlier.

Despite an overall decline in the past 20 years, in 2012 there were almost 2,000 incidents at railroad crossings in the U.S., and 300 were fatal.

Kate O'Connell/Innovation Trail

It’s soft, stinky and delicious, and it’s an opportunity for economic development.

Upstate New York looks ready to usher in a new era of cheese production. A partnership between supermarket chain Wegmans Food Markets and Cornell University hopes to make the region a leader in the artisanal cheese industry.

Dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Kathy Boor, says growing demand for local quality cheese presents an opportunity to diversify the region’s dairy industry.

Eastman Kodak Company

It's been a big week for Kodak. The U.S. bankruptcy court approved the company's previously announced comprehensive settlement agreement with its United Kingdom pension plan Thursday.

The settlement includes the spin-off of Kodak’s personal and document imaging businesses to U.K. pensioners, and represents a big step in the company’s bid to emerge from chapter 11.

The U.K. Kodak Pension Plan (KPP) is the company’s single largest creditor with respect to its chapter 11 plan for reorganization.

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Think pancakes, think sweet and golden; think economic development.

New York state’s maple syrup production surged this year, rising nearly 60 percent after a slow crop in 2012.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says production was boosted from 360,000 to 574,000 gallons in the 2013 season.

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Researchers in upstate New York have identified the chemical that leads to cancer resistance in laboratory animals: naked mole rats.

The discovery could eventually lead to new cancer treatments and even the ability for cancer resistance in humans according to the authors.

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An estimated 15 percent of people around the world live with some form of disability. Upstate universities are tackling the challenges faced by this segment of the population and coming up with innovative technologies to increase access.

A walker for elderly people that also monitors vital signs, and a cane that uses vibrations to allow deaf and blind people to easily navigate their environment: these are just a couple of the access technologies created by researchers in western New York.

A new report from the Brookings Institution argues that more resources for training workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) should be directed at non-degree education providers.

The need for more STEM grads is a familiar cry from industry leaders and politicians alike. But, this new report argues there’s a large potential workforce being ignored because STEM jobs are being too narrowly defined.

Kate O'Connell

The commercialization of a new industrial process in upstate New York could lead to cheaper, greener solar energy systems.

Nanotech company Intrinsiq Materials has been awarded $887,000 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to take their idea forward.

Solar cells are currently made with circuits that use connections made from silver; an efficient but expensive conducting material.

Kate O'Connell / WXXI

Last year the U.S. Department of Labor awarded more than $14 million to the SUNY network of community colleges in upstate New York to develop work training programs for emerging industries. But, nearly one year on, the advanced manufacturing sector is asking for more, pointing to the skills gap as an ongoing issue.

Eric Roth is one of fifteen students in the commencing class of an intensive course aimed at combating the growing thirst for workers.

Kate O'Connell / WXXI

The changing face of New York’s energy landscape has brought uncertainty about the future of the state’s coal plants. The future of one particular plant in western New York has become a hot topic.

Plummeting natural gas prices and tightening emissions restrictions have made the NRG Energy plant in Dunkirk unviable from a business standpoint.

But, the plant is too important to the reliability of western New York’s electricity grid to simply shut it down.

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The five year Farm Bill, likely to pass a vote in the U.S. Senate next Monday, includes an amendment from New York Sen. Charles Schumer that attempts to address rising demand for milk.

Schumer says the amendment could help New York’s dairy farmers supply a fast-growing yogurt industry.

It would create a $5 million pilot program aimed at helping small dairy farms access technical help for  things like animal nutrition and business planning.

New York’s top court has been asked to decide whether local governments can ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Last month a mid-level appeals court ruled unanimously in favor of upholding local bans in the towns of Dryden and Middlefield, meaning there’s no requirement for the case to be taken up by the top court.

Kate O'Connell

Upstate New York’s newest Greek yogurt factory opened its doors in Batavia, Monday. The factory is a joint venture between Pepsi and German dairy giant, the Theo Muller Group. The Muller Quaker Dairy Plant is touted as a shot in the arm for the dairy industry in western New York.

The 350,000 square foot facility will produce several yogurt products, including the fast growing Greek yogurt varieties. The plant will initially operate three lines, producing more than 120,000 cups of yogurt per hour.

Community colleges are having a large economic impact on their home counties upstate, according to new research.

A report focused on Monroe Community College in western New York, calculated the institution has an annual impact of more than $710 million in Monroe County. And, says MCC president Anne Kress, SUNY colleges across upstate New York are no different.

The impact and severity of weather events like the tornado that hit Oklahoma City are increasing due to a changing global climate, according to research from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Kate O'Connell/Innovation Trail

New York is the second biggest apple producing state in the country. But, last year production dropped dramatically due to a warmer winter, early blooms, and harsh spring frosts. The total production from the state plummeted from 1.2 million pounds in 2011, to just 710,000 pounds in 2012. But, weather isn’t the only challenge growers are contending with.

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