Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort has announced the creation of a County Executive’s Business Advisory Committee, made up of the leaders of some of the county's major businesses.
A news release from Ossenfort's office Tuesday announced the creation of the group. According to the release, executives from Hill & Markes, Alpin Haus, Hummingbird Hills Winery, and an Amsterdam company called the Executive Group "and others" as well as staff from the Montgomery County Business Development Center will form a "business leader roundtable" that will hold its first meeting in the next few weeks.
Ossenfort said he used to be a part of the CEO Roundtable formed by former Fulton Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger, which seems to have become inactive in recent years. Swanger put the old group together in 2011 and it remained active until some time in 2018. Swanger retired from FMCC in June.
Ossenfort said he hopes his County Executive’s Business Advisory Committee can fill some of the void left by the CEO group.
"That group, for whatever reason, isn't as strong a presence as it was, so we really wanted to keep that connection going, and doing something like this will allow for that," he said. "This should help us have a better conversation back and forth with the business community."
Ossenfort said he envisions the County Executive’s Business Advisory Committee holding private meetings and some public meetings, as had been the case with the CEO Roundtable. He said any business leader interested in joining the committee can contact his office at 518-853-4304 or the Montgomery County Business Development Center at 518-853-8334.
The old CEO Roundtable had been known for attempting to tackle major obstacles to business development, such as municipal turf battles over resources like water and sewer and in 2017 the CEO Roundtable suggested Fulton or Montgomery County explore establishing a refugee center similar to the one in Utica as a means of bolstering the local labor supply.
Ossenfort said he believes his group will discuss barriers to business that can be addressed on the county level, such as the lack of public transportation in Montgomery County, a lack of affordable child care and labor shortages for manufacturing companies.
"I think we've done a great job at recruiting the big projects and filling up our industrial parks, but we really need to focus on the businesses that are here and how we can help them, as well as our downtowns and main streets," he said. "This could be more smaller projects, and not just securing a new business, but making sure transportation is there, making sure the needs of the businesses are met."
Andy Heck, president and general manager of Alpin Haus, said he was a part of the original CEO Roundtable and he feels honored to have been asked to be a part of Ossenfort's County Executive’s Business Advisory Committee.
"This is going to throw us business leaders together with the elected officials, and it's always a winning combination when that happens," he said. "Going back to the CEO Roundtable, some of the things we looked at were the image of the community, the quality of life of the workforce County Executive’s Business Advisory Committee — we looked at all of that stuff as being important, and that it was important to be on the same page."
Ossenfort said when he first took office in 2014 the major focus of economic development was creating jobs, but since then more than 1,000 jobs have been created in Montgomery County, and more will likely be created if Winstanley Enterprises is able to develop a new distribution center on Route 5S in the Town of Florida.
Ossenfort said many companies now tell him they have trouble recruiting and retaining workers. He said one way to help the labor shortage would be for the Capital District Transportation Authority to be expanded into Montgomery County.
"This is something I have talked with [Amsterdam] Mayor Cinquanti about at great length to team up and try to get that funding that's required in the state budget to make CDTA a reality in Montgomery County," Ossenfort said. "Businesses need to have that connection to workers and transportation is the missing link at this point, whether it's the 5S corridor or even the Walmart Distribution Center in Fulton County, they all really would like to see public transportation and have some routes directly to the businesses."
During the 2019 state budget process Ossenfort along with State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, lobbied for a $3.5 million plan to expand CDTA into Montgomery County. Ossenfort pledged $300,000, a portion of his county's mortgage tax, as the local share for the expansion, with the rest paid for by New York state. The proposal was ultimately not included in the state budget, but Ossenfort said the county will try again during the 2020 budget process.
Heck said 2019 was the best year his company has had filling jobs, in terms of the number and quality of applicants, but he still had difficulty filling positions requiring technical skill. He said transportation hasn't been a problem with him recruiting workers, but he knows it is a problem with some of the businesses on Montgomery county's Route 5S corridor.
Ossenfort said one of the first things he wants the County Executive’s Business Advisory Committee to do is look at the Regional Business Plan created years ago by the old CEO Roundtable, which included business leaders from both Fulton and Montgomery counties, and create a new plan focused on Montgomery County.
"We need to revisit that in terms of focus and goals," he said. "I'm sure some of the goals will be the same, but I think there will be a much bigger focus on workforce development, transportation and things of that nature."