SCHOHARIE COUNTY -- County officials have scheduled a series of public forums, starting Wednesday, to obtain public input on its 10-year economic strategic plan process.
County Administrator Steven Wilson said one of the first items on the agenda for his position, which was created by the county board of supervisors in 2015, was updating the county's economic strategic plan, last done in 2000. Wilson said the June public forums are the last piece of the puzzle before the county publishes the plan, either in late July or August.
"We're looking for people's ideas about what kind of economy they want Schoharie County to have. This is pretty much the end of a process that started back in December," he said.
The public forums are slated to take place at the following times and locations:
- 2 to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, at Schoharie Town Hall.
- 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Gilboa Town Hall (focus group for the southern part of the county).
- 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at Sharon Springs Town Hall.
- 7 to 8 p.m. at Conesville Town Hall (joint Town Board meeting between Conesville and Gilboa).
The focus groups will be conducted by county officials and the county's consulting firm for the project, Fairweather Consulting of New Paltz. Schoharie County hired Fairweather in December, using a $50,000 New York state Consolidated Funding Application grant, plus a $50,000 local match.
Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister is chairman of the county's economic development committee, which was formed this year to facilitate the strategy's process. He said Fairweather Consulting was chosen for its experience with strategic plans for rural counties.
"The process has been good because Mr. Fairweather has taken his time," McAllister said. "He's interviewing all kinds of assets throughout the county -- different organizations, different people, which we hope will be helpful. The whole outcome here is to try to have a plan of attack to see how we can improve the economic situation of the county."
Wilson said Fairweather has been using data, mostly from 2008 to 2015, to create a profile of Schoharie County's economy, with an aim toward determining where the county should focus its efforts.
Some preliminary findings of Fairweather's research is available to be downloaded at schohariestrategy.com.
Wilson said research so far has determined Schoharie County has an older population, often without a college education and typically earning lower wages than the surrounding areas. He said Schoharie County is located on the edge of three regional economies: the Mohawk Valley, the Albany metro area, and an area defined as the greater central New York region or "the southern tier out toward Ithaca."
"We're on the edges on all of these economies, so what that means to me is that a lot of our folks are commuting to the core of these other areas," Wilson said. "I bet you fully half of our workforce drives to Albany, Schenectady, Amsterdam, probably Oneonta as well. So, we're kind of a mix of a rural economy, and a bit of a commuter economy as well."
Economic data broken down by Fairweather shows the healthcare sector is the largest employer of people producing goods or services consumed within the county. The largest employer working with goods or services consumed outside of the county is the distribution sector, dominated by the Walmart Distribution Center in Sharon Springs.
Wilson said one of the county's clear assets is Interstate 88, which can be used to transport goods throughout the Northeast. Other important assets include agriculture and SUNY Cobleskill.
Wilson said the key to the new 10-year plan will be creating a vision and then taking steps toward implementing it.
"The plan will say, 'We need to apply for certain CFA grants,' or better yet, 'We need to expand our sewer and water. We need to focus on getting broadband to Gilboa, or SUNY Cobleskill needs to have a master's program in agricultural economics,'" he said. "It will have that level of specificity to it -- things that the county government and the 16 towns and six villages, the college and the school districts can implement."