By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — As the U.S. economy continued its slow climb out of the Great Recession, its steps forward and stumbles backward were reflected in this region.
The unemployment rate remained stubbornly high: 7.7 percent nationally and 8.3 percent in New York state, according to preliminary figures for November released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The high percentage for the state was linked, at least partially, to job losses resulting from Hurricane Sandy, which deeply affected the downstate economy but had little direct effect on upstate businesses.
The unemployment rate was 8.6 nationally and 8 percent in New York for November 2011.
Regionally, jobless figures for April in Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties ranged from 7.6 to 9.3 percent during a month when the statewide rate was 8.1 percent.
For local businesses, 2012 had a dizzying array of ups and downs.
The Chobani yogurt company, a star of the regional economy, was no different. The South Edmeston company was named official yogurt supplier to the U.S. Olympic Team, and its ads appeared during broadcasts of the Summer Olympics from London in July and August. It continued a $134 million expansion project at its plant in the town of Columbus.
In June, Hamdi Ulukaya, its founder, president and CEO, was honored as the retail and consumer products entrepreneur of the year for the New York area by Ernst & Young.
And the company opened Chobani SoHo, its first yogurt bar, in a trendy Manhattan neighborhood.
But Chobani also was implicated in a die-off of mussels in the Unadilla River that appeared to be related to its sale of whey byproduct to Chenango and Otsego county farmers who used it as fertilizer.
In addition, the company was fined $178,000 in March by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for workplace violations, and it agreed this month to pay $130,000 to settle accusations that it drew water from a local aquifer without proper permits.
South Edmeston residents also voiced a series of complaints ranging from litter-spreading commuters to falling property values as a result of their proximity to the plant. In May, an ammonia leak caused an evacuation at the plant.
Adding to the trouble, Ulukaya’s ex-wife, Ayse Giray, filed a lawsuit claiming she is owed a 53 percent stake in the yogurt brand.
In Delaware County, the local economy took a hit in October when Countryside Care Center in Delhi closed, putting 200 employees out of work and dispersing 125 residents to other care facilities throughout the region. The county had operated the center until 2005, when it sold the facility and business to Leatherstocking Heathcare LLC, a company based in a Herkimer house. Leatherstocking left a trail of angry employees and unpaid vendors when it closed.
As the year ends, there is still hope that a buyer could be found, and that the center could reopen.
Elsewhere in the country, NorthEast Fabricators of Walton began rolling out a line of self-contained mobile medical units for use in third-world countries, with the first going to Ghana. In addition, Sportsfield Specialties Inc. of Delhi earned a contract to sell portable pitching mounds to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
In Oneonta, Drogen’s Home Furnishings sold its store on the Southside of Oneonta and exited the furniture business after 40 years. Owner Arnie Drogen said the company would concentrate on its core business of lighting and electrical supplies from its Main Street location.
The comings and goings on Main Street in Oneonta continued, as Sport Tech and Stevens Hardware, among others, left, and a long-vacant retail space at the corner of Ford Avenue and Main Street became the Shops at Ford and Main, housing the Oneonta Spice Co., a loan office for Delaware National Bank, Monkey Barrel Toys, Collage Food Boutique, Classic Style a bit of Whimsy, Hospice Thrift Shop and Half Pint Printing.
Sport Tech’s space was taken over by Oneonta Bicycles, and the space formerly occupied by the Oneonta Spice Co., is expected to become the city’s first brew pub early in the new year.
Expansion was the theme on Oneonta’s Southside, with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Petco and Kay Jewelers opening in the Southside Mall, and a Metro Mattress opening across state Route 23.
And for those looking for work, there was this hardly surprising news in November: 2011 unemployment figures showed that the better educated one is, the better the odds of finding a job. The unemployment rate for people who had an associate degree was 6.4 percent, for those with a bachelor’s degree it was 5.8 percent and 2.9 percent for those with a master’s degree or higher.