The need for firefighting equipment and the impact federal fiscal policy has on local jobs were among concerns expressed to U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, as he toured Fulton County on Friday.
Owens, who now represents all of Fulton County following redistricting, had a tour of Gloversville City Hall where he’s opening up a new district office, the first such office Gloversville 1st Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth can recall in the city.
“It’s a big deal,” she said, adding that the population center of the county is an appropriate spot for the congressman’s office.
Prior to redistricting, the city was represented by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, whose local office was in Amsterdam.
City officials gave Owens a tour of City Hall, police headquarters and the fire station — where Fire Chief Beth Whitman-Putnam wasted no time letting the congressman know what’s lacking.
“We need a ladder truck,” she said after meeting Owens and staff members accompanying him.
Heavy on the minds of both Wentworth and 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio is the impact the federal government’s ongoing sequester battle, expected to end with serious cuts to funding for some programs like Head Start and home-delivered meals for the elderly.
At the same time, Wentworth said Lexington Center, the Fulton County chapter of the ARC, is facing state-level cuts that could spell bad news for the local job market.
Lexington employs roughly 1,450 people at its Gloversville facility and funding cuts would mean fewer job opportunities for local workers, she said.
Owens said spending cuts are likely, but he doesn’t expect them to yield as “dramatic” an outcome as some have suggested.
He said he sees some movement on the federal level and bipartisan agreements that could give high-level administrators more flexibility in terms of precisely where cuts are made.
It wasn’t until this week, Owens said, that he perceived progress being made in Congress to come up with a workable fiscal plan.
“It really seems to have gotten some momentum,” he said.
Following his tour in Gloversville, Owens got a firsthand look at one of the lesser-known production facilities in the other half of the Glove Cities — Johnstown.
He spent roughly an hour touring the Townsend Leather factory, a family-run business that’s been striving to hold onto its place in an industry once dominated by U.S. firms.
Today, the majority of leather production takes place in China, Townsend Leather chairman Terry Kucel said. Townsend Leather has carved out a niche in the industry, however, supplying leather interiors for aircraft and other high-end interior applications.
It’s an operation that took a major hit during the recent recession.
Townsend Leather employed 225 people during 2008, which was the busiest year for the 43-year-old firm. Today, the company employs 125 following layoffs earlier this month of 20 people, Kucel said. He said the recession’s impact on the demand for aircraft continues to put pressure on the industry.