Fulton County

Fulton County develops economic development strategy

Fulton County officials are ready for an economic revival, and they are introducing a plan to help t
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer tours Fage USA in Fulton County in 2013.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer tours Fage USA in Fulton County in 2013.

Fulton County officials are ready for an economic revival, and they are introducing a plan to help the county achieve it.

What were once churning commercial hubs, anchored by a booming leather industry, the twin cities of Johnstown and Gloversville and their rural peripheries have seen the bottom fall out since the late-1970s.

The county, with a population of about 55,000, has worked at improving the economy since then, including the establishment of industrial parks.

In May, the state reported the county’s unemployment rate at 5.2 percent.

According to Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz, the county’s latest effort will enable it to fully shed its image of being economically depressed and commercially stagnant.

“That was probably the case some time ago,” he said of the county’s image. “We’ve pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. We have a lot of positive things going on in the county, but we’re the only ones who know it.”

The plan, three years in the making, is called Jump Start Fulton County and has three main prongs: attracting targeted industries to the recently completed Tryon Technology Park, building out water and sewer service to areas ripe for development, and highlighting the affordability and availability of land and property within the county for both residential and commercial use.

The technology park is 75,000 square feet of classrooms, training, conference and office space complemented by indoor recreational facilities that the county converted from a youth detention center closed by the state in 2011. The facility has an additional 220 acres of shovel-ready land that can be built to suit, Mraz said.

Vireo Health, one of the state’s first medical marijuana companies granted a license to sell medical cannabis products, set up shop at Tryon in 2015 and recently finished construction of a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse.

Plentiful source

If the Tryon Technology Park is the flagship of this new initiative, then the county’s SMART Waters agreement with Gloversville in 2015 is the foundation upon which everything rests, according to John Stead, the administrative officer for Fulton County.

“That’s really gonna be a breakthrough for development that’s been an impediment for development for decades,” said Stead, who worked closely with Mraz and other county officials on the planning and strategy contained within Jump Start. “I call the SMART Waters agreement the foundation for all these other Jump Start initiatives.”

The agreement, inked last year between Fulton County and Gloversville, enables the city to sell the county up to 2 million gallons of water a day. Mraz said Gloversville, which draws on reservoirs that have a capacity for 8 million gallons of water per day, is currently billing for less than 2 million of those gallons.

At the same time, sites east of Gloversville that have been identified as ripe for development have always been hampered by a lack of water and sewer infrastructure, said Mraz.

“Ninety-seven percent of vacant land in Fulton county lies in 10 towns that don’t have municipal water or sewer service,” he said.

The SMART Waters plan will allow the county to expand that infrastructure out from the city to two areas the county dubbed Hales Mills and Vails Mills, which comprise hundreds of acres of developable land east of Gloversville.

The Vails Mills development area, at the intersection of routes 30 and 29 in Mayfield, has the highest volume of traffic in Fulton County, according to Mraz.

“There are areas in the county that are really primed for development,” he said. “We need to reimagine ourselves by telling the world about all the opportunities here.”

Engineering work to plan for the infrastructure expansion is ongoing, said Mraz, and the county’s plan is to put work out to bid this winter and have the work actually begin in the spring.

Stead said the priority is bringing the water and sewer infrastructure to Hales Mills, which will cost about $2 million. Bringing that infrastructure to Vails Mills will cost more, he said.

“We think the investment is definitely going to be worth it over the longer haul, 10 or 15 years,” said Stead.

Mraz estimated developing the Jump Start program cost about $500,000, and came from a mixture of county funding and economic development grants from energy giant National Grid.

Affordable land

The third prong of Jump Start is to draw attention to the availability and affordability of property and land in Fulton County relative to the surrounding area.

According to the industrial development agency, an 11-acre, single-building lot in Fulton County costs $29,933, compared to a 0.61-acre single-building lot for $212,032 in Saratoga County.

Economic competition with the surrounding area has always been a challenge for Fulton County, Stead said.

“We’re just close enough to the Capital District to compete with them for jobs and our salaries are often comparable,” he said. “People can commute from our area, but it’s a challenge to attract people from the Capital District to live here.”

Stead said Fulton County’s relatively cheap cost of living is ideal for commuters as well as those seeking to work in the county. The trick now is to make sure the county can handle the influx of people and businesses that officials hope will come.

“We have to make sure our community has the infrastructure and the vibe and atmosphere that people want to live and work here,” said Stead.

Mraz said the image of Fulton County as being in decline is a thing of the past, and one of their biggest selling points is affordability.

“We’re very confident because it’s not just about all these economic development initiatives,” he said. “We’re also looking to put out the message about why it’s good to do business in Fulton County and it starts with our affordability — our land, buildings and housing.”

Getting that message out is now job number one.

“We all know it, those of us that live here, but part of our efforts going forward are to tell others why Fulton County is a great place to live and do business,” said Mraz.

Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.

Categories: Business, News

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