Schoharie County

Schoharie County seeks new economic plan

Some voice skepticism of another study
Main Street in downtown Schoharie, June 18, 2013.
Main Street in downtown Schoharie, June 18, 2013.

Schoharie County set out Friday morning to build an economic development strategy for attracting new businesses and growing existing ones for the next decade.

The planning process, which is expected to culminate in a final report in June, kicked with dozens of stakeholders from across the county meeting at SUNY Cobleskill with the project’s lead consultant.

Peter Fairweather, the New Paltz-based consultant, said Schoharie County has the potential to draw from a trio of regional economies — the Capital Region, the Mohawk Valley and the Greater Central New York region – thanks to its central, albeit peripheral, location.

He also highlighted the county’s long history with agriculture, arguing that is one of the most innovative industries in the economy.

“Here’s the approach we are going to take, here are the steps that are going to be involved in that… and here are the things we are going to do to measure progress,” Fairweather said.

Outlining the growth and contraction of various industries in the county between 2008 and 2015, Fairweather identified potential high-growth areas in the coming years. The county’s distribution, food processing, wood products and livestock industries grew much more than the national average. Meanwhile, its plastics, nonmetal mining and business services sectors all regressed more than national averages.

Fairweather said a more detailed economic analysis of the county will take another month or two, and that he will spend much of the winter and spring meeting with individuals, businesses, industry groups, school leaders and others across the county as a strategic plan begins to take shape.

To frame the choices ahead for the county, the consultant compared two types of economic approaches. The first is high-quality and high-cost areas, while the second is low-cost. Lower-cost markets offer businesses cheaper labor, inexpensive land, clear regulations and relatively low taxes. High-cost markets have vibrant population centers, attract “world-class talent” and create innovative technologies.

Regions that attempt to fit in the middle lose out in the long run, Fairweather said.

“You’ve got to make a choice, because if you say you are all things to all people, next thing you know, you are not,” Fairweather said.

Some of the meeting’s attendees questioned the two-roads approach, saying rural counties especially need strong connectivity, and why can’t Schoharie County sell its quality of life to businesses looking to relocate.

Fairweather said the plan doesn’t have to focus on attracting big new employers – like a greenhouse project announced by SUNY Cobleskill this week – but that growing existing businesses or bringing in small ones adds up over time. And the key to any effective strategy, he said, is that the community commits to it over the long run.

“A victory doesn’t have to be 250 (jobs). It can be 25; it can be five,” Fairweather said.

Some in the room expressed skepticism that another long-term plan would do any good. Other consultant reports in recent years have borne little fruit, they said.

Mark Nadeau, who owns the Donats Brow Townhouse Community in Cobleskill, said the region’s regulatory process is far too onerous and makes it nearly impossible to complete projects in an economical way.

“The process is too hard; it sucks the life out of a project,” he said.

But county officials said they hope this approach will be different.

“We are all very skeptical of another grant that is going to give us more statistics and we do nothing,” said Cobleskill Town Supervisor Leo McAllister. “And that’s not what this is going to be – I hope.”

Categories: Business, News

Leave a Reply