County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said that because he married into a Syracuse family with die-hard Orange fans, his daughter, who is now a toddler, will likely wind up going to Syracuse University.
He was thinking about that during his State of the County address Wednesday at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, and how during every drive to Syracuse he passes Exit 29 in the village of Canajoharie and the decrepit Beech-Nut site that abuts I-90.
He was thinking about his daughter last September too, when he met with county officials and village residents for the first time to discuss plans the county has for rehabilitating the site into an industrial or business park with shovel-ready sites waiting to create jobs and tax revenue.
Ossenfort said maybe one day, 15 or 16 years into the future, he’ll be taking his daughter to college and the view off Exit 29 will be a little bit different.
“Maybe I’m passing by the Exit 29 site, and maybe by then we’ll see a very different, revived, thriving, fantastic village,” he said.
And maybe his daughter won’t think it’s very special, he continued, as she blew kisses from the audience while seated in her mother’s lap. But during that meeting in September he realized that one of the main reasons to embark on the long and arduous process of bringing the site back from decay is for future generations who can take pride in where they come from.
Ossenfort said at the meeting in September that that argument is one he used to persuade residents, who were concerned about the village’s financial liability for the site, to support the county’s plan.
“That’s what it’s all about, it’s about the long haul, it’s about our kids,” said Ossenfort on Wednesday.
Since September, the Beech-Nut project has drawn in over $1 million in local, state and federal funding for environmental remediation, use studies, and demolition of several existing, dilapidated structures at the site. And although the process of converting the site into usable space will be years in the making, Ossenfort said the project is an exciting sign that the county has the ability and wherewithal to pull itself out of any economic rut it’s experiencing.
“The net gain is restoring pride to the community and that, you know what, things are heading in the right direction,” said Ossenfort after his address. “The decline of upstate New York, not just Montgomery County, has hurt the pride of communities across upstate. And I think for people to see positive things happening not only builds the reputation of the county and what we have to offer, but it helps people to feel good about where they live again.”
Ossenfort also mentioned another big project in the county: the 750,000-square-foot Dollar General distribution center project that is set to break ground in the spring and bring over 400 permanent jobs to the area.
Ossenfort said his goal as county executive is to cultivate transformative change in the region. To that end, in addition to the Beech-Nut and Dollar General projects, Ossenfort said the county is making progress on a host of initiatives designed to raise tax revenues, provide jobs and hometown pride.
These include renewed efforts to boost tourism by promoting the area’s significant Revolutionary War history, continuing a pilot program for workforce development, road and bridge work throughout the county, getting the Fulton-Montgomery Regional Business Park off the ground, and continuing to work on various microenterprise and small business incubator projects.
“Montgomery County is getting strong and growing stronger every day,” said Ossenfort, noting that the area is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in a decade.
Another major project being undertaken at the county level is competing in the state’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition, which awards local governments for proposals to consolidate local services in an effort to save taxpayer money. Montgomery County is one of six local governments statewide that are finalists in the competition, and was recently awarded $50,000 to continue developing their plan. The top prize winner, announced this summer, will be awarded $20 million to implement their plan.
Ossenfort said the county has “no choice” but to look toward consolidation for cost savings and increased efficiency.
“We’re all hands on deck to get this application done before the summer, we don’t have any time to spare. It is a top priority of our economic development office,” said Ossenfort. “That $20 million is a pretty enticing carrot and we’re not going to have this opportunity again.”
Ossenfort, who at 35 is the youngest county executive in the state, said it’s important for the county to continue to reach outside its borders for help on the state and federal levels, as they’ve been doing with the Beech-Nut project.
“Our issues are bigger than just ourselves and we can’t close ourselves off, we need to reach outside of our borders at the state and federal level,” said Ossenfort.
He said the county recently secured $3.75 million in state and federal funding for the rehabilitation of the aged Burtonsville Bridge, which provides the only access east to west over the Schoharie Creek from the Gilboa Dam to the Mohawk River. The bridge, built in 1939, has a maximum load limit of 10 tons and is not adequate for the heavy vehicles that provide emergency services for residents in that part of the county. Ossenfort, who grew up in the city of Amsterdam, said the bridge proved crucial in 2011 during the flooding caused by tropical storms Irene and Lee.