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August 17, 2013

Time for the Oneontas to go it alone

By Albert Colone Guest Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — It’s time for the two Oneontas to go it alone!

There’s been serious discussion lately on creating a new economic development model for Otsego County, conversation initiated as a result of the resignation of county economic developer Carolyn Lewis. Much of the debate is about whether we should continue the government-based structure currently in place, a privately managed system or some combination of both. While establishing the right economic development model is certainly important, there are far more fundamental matters that need to be dealt with first.

We need to answer the following questions, first. Do we believe in Oneonta? Do we believe that Oneonta is the most important municipal-urban center for an area between the Thruway to the east to I-81 to the west; from the Mohawk Valley to the north and the Southern Tier to the south? Do we believe that Oneonta has a leadership responsibility to the entire area? Do you see Oneonta as the area’s commercial and cultural hub, to include being the area’s hospitality hub?

I believe that our local leaders, public and private, need to step up and say yes to all. It should also be a citizen pledge or oath. Oneonta can grow and needs to; I think Oneonta needs to grow by between 500 to 1,000 new families just to justify our existing commercial, educational, physical and cultural infrastructure.

Do you want to maximize the use of our public schools? Then we need to grow student enrollment within the Oneonta School District and expand the local tax base, and that only happens through the creation of sustainable, good-paying new jobs.

It was quite heartening to see a recent Zogby survey of town residents that revealed a wide majority of those surveyed supported expanded economic development in the community. So, if the community at large believes the place can be a lot better than it is, then the first thing that needs to happen is for all city and town public officials and private leaders to unite in spirit, to engage in meaningful cooperation to support expanded economic development.

The success of Greater Oneonta economic development will hinge on the ability of the two Oneontas to think and work as one. All Oneonta political leaders who represent the city and town of Oneonta running for office this year need to be publicly challenged to come out in support of the Oneonta economic development plan.

In order for Oneonta to take its rightful place as the area’s commercial and cultural hub, Oneonta needs to go it alone. We need to do our own economic development because there is no other public or private entity that can see and is willing to invest in Oneonta’s potential. Real Oneontans are the only ones who can deliver the goods!

We need our own entity that says Oneonta, an operational unit that deals exclusively with job creation within the footprint of the city and town of Oneonta. It needs to start with creating our own economic development entity with an expert staff and allied subcontractors, most certainly the private model. Initially, it needs to be backed by equal funding shares by city and town governments, be organized with its own internal revenue centers and one that encourages private investment.

We need to control our own destiny. Let’s not look around for someone or some outside entity to step up to take care of us. We need to do it ourselves. And we certainly shouldn’t look to Otsego County government for any funding support. The county is experiencing increasing financial stress and has extensive outstanding financial obligations, and when push comes to shove, the county board will likely use its resources to offset debt and operational stress. That’s just the way it has always been!

The first thing the new economic development organization needs to do is to develop a combined city/town economic development master plan that recognizes that everything we have to deal with needs to be done together. It needs to focus on filling the Pony Farm Industrial Park, securing infrastructure funding for extending utilities, developing a new modern Roundhouse Road in the old rail-yards, marketing the East End, West End, Southside and downtown retail sectors, and overall Oneonta community promotion to include the performing arts, conventions and sports tourism.

The top priority of the new organization is growing jobs — good paying jobs — for Oneonta. The new organization needs to create a direct alliance with SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College, one that seizes on their academic talent and professional expertise towards building a diverse Oneonta economy and makes graduates want to establish their professional careers here.

This new Oneonta economic development operation needs to network with existing Oneonta-based businesses to do all that it can to assist them in meeting their business objectives, with an eye towards adding jobs. Oneonta economic development needs to reach out to nearby area communities, chambers of commerce, other economic development groups, state and federal Agencies, always with the working operating motto of “what’s in it for Oneonta?”

It’s time for the two Oneontas to join forces, to go it alone on Oneonta economic development!

Albert Colone is an Oneonta resident. The views expressed Colone’s and do not reflect established positions through GO-EDC, of which Colone is a co-organizer.