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July 5, 2013

Otsego IDA braces for CEO's departure

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Seeking a new pathway to spur economic development for Otsego County, the county’s Industrial Development Authority has been given the green light to hire a new executive director who is expected to help craft a strategic plan for business growth.

The IDA is now set to hire a part-time chief executive officer later this month. That person would be hired as a temporary consultant, whose job would be funded until the end of the year. The individual who is ultimately hired will not be a county employee, officials said.

The new administrator at the IDA would help plug the gap created by the planned departure in August of the county’s chief economic developer, Carolyn Lewis. A county employee, she has also been serving as the executive director of the IDA, and will be resigning from that as well.

“This will give us the opportunity to get all the potential interests together so we can create the organizational model we need to go forward at the first of the year,” said Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Burlington, a member of the IDA’s board of directors.

The county board, in turn, would not move to immediately fill Lewis’ job with the county once she leaves. In leaving her post, she has cited her desire to spend more time with her three young children.

IDA members have been touting the idea of having a public-private partnership to oversee economic development.

The specifics of how that would operate have not been finalized. One proposal touted by Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller would tap several sources for funding a new local development corporation whose focus would be to lure new business. Those sources would include the Otsego County IDA, the Otsego County Development Corp., the Otsego County Chamber, memberships sold to private companies and Hartwick College and the State University College at Oneonta.

Said Sharon Oberriter, an IDA board member: “The public-private model seems to the model that has been the most successful around the state.”

In response to a query from Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, as to whether natural gas production would be part of the vision for local economic development, IDA board members said it was important to reorganize first before taking specific directions.

“We can’t address that feature without addressing the structure and a pool of funding,” said Oberriter. “It’s a whole different ballgame. It’s a different inning, a different championship.”

Robert Harlem, the president of Oneonta Block Inc. and a founder of the pro-business group Citizens Voices, stressed the importance of luring private businesses that will contribute to the region’s tax base. “You have been handed a golden opportunity here with the IDA,” Harlem said. “It doesn’t matter who is going to get the credit. We all have to be pulling together.”

Barbara Ann Heegan, director of the Otsego County Chamber, and Patricia Szarpa, director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, both said they would be eager to assist in the repackaged economic development efforts.

“We feel that having a strategic plan would make a bold statement to the county,” Heegan said.