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November 25, 2013

In Our Opinion: Jobs summit gave Otsego its marching orders

The Daily Star

---- — We hear a lot in this area about the need for more jobs, but it isn’t every day that someone comes into town to tell us exactly what we need to do to get them. 

That’s what happened on Nov. 14, when a panel of experts presented an economic development summit at the Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center in Oneonta. 

And the message was clear: Otsego County isn’t ready for prime time. Not yet, at least. 

“The competition out there is very stiff for jobs and investment,” Richard Sheehy of consulting firm CH2M HILL told the audience of about 175 people. And Otsego County is losing that competition to counties that have two distinct advantages over us.

The first can be summed up in two words: shovel ready. Sheehy stressed the importance of having funding, engineering and permits taken care of at a site so that potential developers have less to worry about.

Of course, all this takes money. But if that is what it will take to attract industry to our county, it would be a worthwhile investment. We applaud the funding that is available for startup or existing businesses, and we know that these grants and loans have done a great deal to support the economic health of our communities. 

But in light of the comments at this recent summit, we would also applaud directing some of the region’s economic development funding toward getting sites such as the rail yards in Oneonta “shovel ready.”

The second point Sheehy made was that the area lacks an obvious “go-to” person or agency for potential developers to contact. 

As a consultant, Sheehy said he needs to know who to call and to be confident that telephone calls will be returned. The best economic development group in the world is the country of Singapore, he said.

“I know who to call in Singapore,” he said.

Otsego County isn’t Singapore. And we can certainly do a better job of coordinating the efforts of the various economic and industrial development entities to present a united front to the outside world. 

We’ve noted before that the changes afoot with the departures of Carolyn Lewis from the Otsego County Economic Development office, and Deb Taylor from Otsego County tourism, present an opportunity for more collaboration within the county. Sheehy’s comments only drive home the importance of such a strategy. 

While we do have some concerns about the idea of privatizing the county tourism department, we do think the idea of gathering public and private stakeholders to work toward a common goal is a good one. It’s just that type of cooperation that we need to accomplish the goals that Sheehy and his fellow panelists described at the summit.