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March 13, 2014

IDA chief: Search is on for 'shovel-ready' sites

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The Otsego County Industrial Development Agency and Otsego County will identify one or two sites in April or May to make shovel-ready to attract a company, the recently appointed agency chief executive officer said Wednesday.

The IDA continues efforts to spur economic development and market its identity as the “point of entry” for companies interested in locating locally, said Alexander “Sandy” Mathes Jr., chief executive officer.

Mathes gave an update on IDA activities to about 60 guests at a Citizen Voices program at The Carriage House in the town of Davenport, just beyond the town of Oneonta line. Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller and Kathy Clark, chairwoman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, spoke on related economic development concerns, such as applying for state grants and supporting small businesses.

Otsego County is part of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. Speakers addressed the need within the county for public/private partnerships, funding, networking to share resources and information and reaching out to entities in nearby regions, such as the Southern Tier and Albany area.

Meanwhile, colleges in Oneonta are working on Start-Up NY, the governor’s initiative to provide tax-free sites for new and expanding businesses. Hartwick College will have a forum at 7:30 a.m. April 29 to present information, said Richard Harlem in introductory remarks at the Citizen Voices meeting.

Also, today the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee of the Otsego County Board of Representatives will meet to discuss the mission, staffing and other functions of the county’s Economic Development Office.

Rudy Ballard, chairman of the Laurens Town Planning Board, said he attended the meeting Wednesday to find out more about economic development efforts.

“All this is new,” he said. “The concern for economic development is survival for future generations for our area. That’s a position I’ve held long-standing.”

Citizen Voices officials said economic development needs to be supported to increase the area’s tax base and provide young people with opportunities and options to live in the area.

In January, Mathes, past executive of the Greene County IDA, was hired as a consultant to lead the IDA, and Elizabeth Horvath of Cooperstown was named chief operating officer.

They were introduced as a team by state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and IDA board Chairwoman Sharon Oberriter. In March 2012, Seward had hosted an economic development summit, and at a follow-up meeting in November, several needs were identified, including a designated or “single contact” to field inquiries by companies interested in the area and the identification and preparation of sites “shovel-ready” for construction.

The IDA was named as the key, single point of contact for economic development in December.

Economic development needs and issues have been raised by a variety of public officials and groups. Citizen Voices, the Otsego County and Cooperstown chambers of commerce, the Greater Oneonta Economic Development Council and the Oneonta Community Alliance are organizations advocating for initiatives.

Mathes said Wednesday that he has met a “tremendous” number of people since he started with the IDA. Horvath explained that she has been working “behind the scenes.”

“There is a groundswell of enthusiasm and opportunity in the county,” Horvath said. “We’re off to a good start.”

The IDA’s goal is private-sector job growth, Mathes said, and the IDA board has agreed to a pending lease of office space on the fifth floor of 189 Main St., Oneonta. The IDA has been housed in the county office building in the city.

Companies seeking to locate in the area will have questions about the local workforce, transportation resources and educational institutions, Mathes said. The next questions will be about housing, medical services, financial institutions and other resources to support the company, its employees and potential growth, he said.

The IDA is working on “branding” to reflect what the county stands for and the type of companies the county wants to attract, Mathes said. The process of identifying a shovel-ready site includes having plans for water and waste-water services, Mathes said, and the State Environmental Quality Review Act process will be an expense.

Miller and Oneonta Town Supervisor Robert Wood said separately that if a company located outside the city or town, the municipalities along with the county would benefit.

Mathes said the IDA isn’t in a position to manage programs involving small businesses, micro-enterprise projects or main street initiatives, which will be for the county to address.

Clark said while the IDA focuses on mid-sized and larger businesses, the county can support small businesses.

“There is a lot of room for development in this county,” Clark said. “We need to develop a network of resources so that we can harness all the energy of entrepreneurship.”

The county board’s IGA Committee meets today and will discuss the county’s Economic Development Office, its mission, staffing and projects, Clark said. The county needs to make sure that towns crafting comprehensive plans are creating positions that are welcoming to business, she said.

The Economic Development Office has one employee, Zondra Hart, Clark said. Clark, who noted she is responsible for being a good steward of taxpayer money, said she doesn’t expect that office to be privatized.

“I’m excited about revitalizing the entire county” Clark said. “I believe the best days are ahead of us.”

Carolyn Lewis, economic development coordinator at the State University College at Oneonta, said a plan for Start-Up NY. SUNY Oneonta has been in touch with businesses. The college is reviewing criteria and resources and is expected to have a plan soon, she said.

Lewis, who formerly headed the county’s Economic Development Office and the IDA, said she was excited about the next steps the agency is taking.

“They have a good team,” she said. “They’re on the right path.”