SCHOHARIE COUNTY — Schoharie County is looking for ways to expand its economy beyond farming.
County officials and the county’s economic development consultant gave an update at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner in late March. The effort won’t be revolutionary and won’t be noticeable immediately, but with time and cooperation, it should improve the economic climate, officials said.
Schoharie County is in the same position as many rural counties in upstate New York and beyond: Population growth, career opportunities and income are lagging behind state and national averages. Agriculture, government and health care are among the main employment sectors.
Schoharie County had 7.5 percent unemployment in February 2018, for example, similar to nearby Delaware, Fulton and Montgomery counties (7.4, 7.5 and 7.8 percent, respectively). The more developed counties nearby had significantly lower jobless rates: 4.8 percent in Albany County, 5 percent in Saratoga County and 5.4 percent in Schenectady County.
Median household income in 2016 was $50,607 in Schoharie County and $63,756 for the entire Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The approach that we’re taking is strengthening and building partnerships,” said Peter Fairweather, of Fairweather Consulting in New Paltz. Key components of the county’s economic landscape, such as the agriculture community and SUNY Cobleskill, will be a key part of the conversation, he said.
“That will drive the strategy.”
County Administrator Steven Wilson said: “There have been a variety of efforts to do economic development over the last couple of decades.” Those efforts met with limited results, and more needs to be done, he said.
Wilson added that economic development was a goal of creating the county administrator position and a goal for himself personally when he sought in 2015 to be the first person to hold the new post.
He created a rough road map that calls for developing:
- A long-term economic development strategy.
- A targeted implementation plan based on that strategy.
- A Schoharie County brand identity.
- A comprehensive inventory of developable sites.
- A long-term organizational structure to support economic development activities.
- A stable, multiyear resource plan to support economic development efforts.
That won’t happen overnight — Fairweather estimates the process being a five- to 10-year effort — but organizers are optimistic it can happen, with the right cooperation.
Part of the strategy will be to build on the strengths of neighboring counties, where a significant number of Schoharie County residents work.
It’s not a short commute, but Interstate 88 provides a straight shot from Cobleskill to one of the strongest economies in New York: the greater Albany area.
“In fact, we’re a little bit of a bedroom community to Albany,” Wilson said.
Fairweather Consulting was chosen to provide guidance from more than a dozen applicants, thanks in part to work the company did for Ontario County, a western New York county with similarities to Schoharie County.
Fairweather said a key next step is reaching out to the business community and institutions within Schoharie County to ask what their experiences have been and what obstacles they see.
The goal at the heart of it all is creating more and better jobs in Schoharie County, Wilson said, so young adults don’t need to move away to build careers.