Fulton and Montgomery counties stand out on a state Department of Labor map showing unemployment rates.
They’re surrounded by counties with more people working, and their unemployment rates are both greater than the statewide average of 7.6 percent.
At the same time, the two counties hold attributes other counties would love to have: access to the New York State Thruway, available land for development, with sewer and water service and plenty of people eager to get to work.
Economic development officials from the two counties spent two days this week with a professional whose firm recommends sites for big projects to companies such as Pepsi Co. and Walmart and learned they’ve got all the tools necessary to lure hundreds of jobs, with one major shortcoming — lack of cooperation.
The Fulton County Center for Regional Growth and Montgomery County Business Development Center invited Mike Mullis, president and CEO of Tennessee-based J.M. Mullis, to take a tour to learn how the two counties are situated to bring jobs to their communities.
It was actually his second tour of the area.
Mullis visited both counties as a consultant several years ago and selected a plot of land in the Montgomery County town of Mohawk, near the Johnstown Industrial Park, as ideal for a company that was looking for a site for a major project.
The plan fell through because of the national economic downturn, but it would have been hard to pursue anyway because Mohawk and the city of Johnstown could not agree on how to share the tax revenue that would have been created by the project, and without Johnstown’s water and sewer services, the project could not go forward.
Now, officials are hoping to capitalize on what they learned to foster a 100-acre-plus project. A workforce hundreds strong needed to support a large facility, Mullis said, doesn’t come from one county.
When site selectors research a region, one of the key measurements is regional capabilities with regards to workforce development.
Research of a potential development site in Fulton County would therefore include a review of Montgomery and surrounding counties.
“The collaborative nature of those counties shows the strength of the leadership environment,” Mullis said.
Regions will make the short list of development sites based on their harmony and ability to put a package together, he said.
Both counties’ economic development heads said a broader approach will be critical to bringing economic vitality.
“We’ve got to market ourselves and collaborate as a region,” said Ken Rose, director of the Montgomery County Business Development Center and CEO of the county’s Industrial Development Agency. “There’s got to be a message that we have to send cohesively and as a region.”
The two economic development teams held a meeting prior to a Friday news conference. Michael J. Reese, CEO of the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, said about 10 supervisors from Fulton County attended.
Also present was Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Thayer.
Thayer said Fulton and Montgomery counties’ poor cooperation is nothing new, but a frank, outside view from a professional will make the issue resonate among local officials.
“It’ll give it a new tone, I believe,” the Republican town supervisor from Root.
State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara also attended the meeting, and both offered to do what they can at the state level. Though they can’t bring county officials together, Santabarbara said state legislators can ensure sufficient funding is available to further the efforts.
He said one important focus will be Fulton-Montgomery Community College, where training could be made available to ensure local workers have the skills necessary to land jobs that are made available.