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October 23, 2013

Alliance promotes cooperation, development

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Community Alliance was greeted Tuesday by several local leaders as a welcomed route to boost efforts to attract private sector development to the area.

The alliance is an important avenue to coordinate interest and initiatives, according to a state senator who plans an economic summit in Oneonta next month to identify development strategies.

The group met at Oneonta City Hall on Tuesday and discussed its purpose and agreed on a name: The Oneonta Community Alliance, Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said.

The alliance’s objective is to “support a better resourced and coordinated effort to promote the growth of the economy in the multi-county region of which Oneonta is the center,” Miller said in an Oct. 17 memorandum to the group. 

The group has been expanding since meetings started early this year, he said, and the door isn’t closed to participants.

The alliance includes organizations or entities involved or advocating for private economic development in the Oneonta region, which is defined as area within a 30-mile radius of Oneonta, Miller said.

However, the Oneonta Community Alliance has no bylaws, authority, budget, resources or minutes from meetings, Miller said. The informality allows organizations to participate in discussions without worries about jeopardizing projects, he said, and to rally around a focus of “it’s all about Oneonta.”

Entities involved in the alliance include the city and town of Oneonta, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, Citizen Voices, the Greater Oneonta Economic Development Council, the Small Business Development Corp., Southside Mall, Executive Service Corps and Otsego County Economic Development.

Miller said he has asked Robert Wood, Oneonta town supervisor, to be co-convener of the alliance.

“The mayor has brought the right players in,” Wood said Tuesday. “We’re certainly glad we’re part of it, it’s a good group.”

In 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo created 10 regional councils to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth. Otsego County was included in the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council, which put Oneonta in the southern-most portion of the designated area, which included several larger cities.

“We are an outpost of the Mohawk Valley economic development region,” Miller said. “We needed to consider ourselves a region.”

In that year’s first round of $785 million in statewide economic development funding, 59 grants were awarded in the Mohawk Valley region, with Brewery Ommegang in Middlefield the sole local private business winning $140,000.

The lack of local success that year sparked initiatives to boost economic development efforts, strategies and improvements to applications for state funding.

City, county and state representatives and others have been meeting and working toward improving results in applications for state funding since initial disappointing results.

This year, nine projects in Otsego County, mostly in the town and city of Oneonta, won state funding totaling almost $2 million. The awards were the city’s most successful efforts in recent years, Miller said previously.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, who held an economic summit in March 2012, has announced a second summit Nov. 14.

Seward said the summit will identify specific projects and areas for economic development. Speakers will address topics and developments in other areas of the state that might be localized, he said.

“Our summit will dove-tail well with Mayor Miller’s efforts,” Seward said Tuesday night.

Among its roles, Miller said, the alliance may lobby for a particular economic development project identified by another organization. The next session of the alliance, which has been meeting the fourth Tuesday of the month, will be Nov. 26.

Zondra Hart, acting economic developer for Otsego County, said the informal approach fosters opportunities to share ideas, enhance understanding about factors that influence projects and to generate momentum toward local economic development.

“I enjoy the energy of this group, we can really grow our area because of the interest.” Hart said. “What we’re trying to do is remove obstacles. This allows a broader range of individuals and organizations to be present and at the table.”

Barbara Ann Heegan, president and executive director of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, said she had been promoting the alliance during a visit Tuesday to CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity, a business resource based in Syracuse. 

The local alliance increases awareness among local groups about initiatives and projects and steers economic development in a unified direction, Heegan said. Participants share expertise in a supportive setting, she said.

“I have found the Oneonta Community Alliance very effective,” Heegan said.

Wood said that the alliance is a good forum to keep local entities informed about ideas and developments.

“It opens up communication,” Wood said. “This is a way for us to participate in promoting Oneonta, in growing and keeping what we do have.”

The alliance is an important initiative because some town residents in a survey this year expressed dissatisfaction about economic development, he said.

In his memo, Miller cited progress in raising awareness that Oneotna is a regional economic center that “should promote itself as such.” The mayor said a possible city/town website was among positive developments toward promoting Oneonta as a destination hub.

Wood agreed, saying a baseball camper’s family interested in finding restaurants and other local amenities would benefit from a joint website.

But any shared website needs to have distinct sections for municipal services for access by town residents, he said.