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November 15, 2013

Local experts debate job-luring strategies

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — ONEONTA — If a company were looking for a business location, Otsego County would lose in the first round of consideration for lack of a shovel-ready site, a speaker at an economic summit said Thursday.

First impressions count, according to Richard Sheehy, a site-selection specialist with CH2M HILL, a consulting, design, build, operations and program management firm, said.

Sheehy was among several speakers and panelists who addressed about 175 people attending the Otsego County Economic Development Summit II at the Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center in downtown Oneonta.

Otsego County hasn’t had a coordinated effort to position itself for economic development opportunity, Sheehy said, and doesn’t have a designated go-to agency or person to field inquiries about locating and doing business locally.

“The competition out there is very stiff for jobs and investment,” Sheehy said. He urged listeners the next time they leave and return to the county to imagine seeing the community for the first time.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, called for the summit, which was presented in conjunction with the Otsego County Development Corp., the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, and Citizen Voices.

Seward said as a follow-up to Thursday’s session, he would convene a smaller group to develop ideas. The senator said his first summit in Cooperstown early last year identified some priorities, including a need for broadband access, and the second summit was to answer questions about the direction and initiatives of economic development.

About five economic development professionals from the public and private sectors spoke on panels to share experiences and give advice to Otsego County politicians, business, banking, education and other representatives.

Summit topics Thursday ranged from state government support for initiatives, public and private funding and collaborations with universities, colleges and public schools. Factors in economic development include leveraging universities, infrastructure, developing partnerships and identifying a work force, speakers said.

“Companies will go to a place where they know they can grow,” Robert Geer, acting president of the State University Institute of Technology, said in his keynote address.

David Rooney, a past vice president of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany, said no single community can meet the needs of a manufacturer or company.

“Collaboration is absolutely essential,” Rooney said.

Steve Hyde, president and chief executive officer of Genesee County Economic Development Corp., encouraged efforts that focus initiatives.

“Don’t try to be all things to all people,” Hyde said. “Write a strategic plan.”

Seward said local assets include two hospitals, two colleges, a rail line, an interstate highway, agricultural resources and more, he said.

“We need to focus our attention on how we develop these assets,” Seward said. “It is time to move forward,”

Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller, in introductory remarks, agreed that the area has many assets. The summit provides opportunities to consider how the public and private sector can connect and improve economic development efforts, he said.

Reaching out to nanotechnology and other opportunities are among avenues to consider, as the greater Oneonta area develops as a hub, Miller said.

Sheehy was among about 20 people from the local community who rode an Oneonta Public Transit bus Wednesday on a tour of the town and city of Oneonta, officials said.

Otsego County’s assets include plentiful and high-quality water, Sheehy said. The area also has agricultural resources, which could be developed because people like to pay a lot of money for good, safe food, he said.

The local community has some good, quality manufacturers for its size, said Sheehy, who lives in Oregon. Aerospace, metals and capacitors are among other existing resources that may be developed, he said, and future development opportunities might include medical devices, equipment and manufacturing.

Sheehy said as a consultant responsible for helping businesses find the best location in the shortest amount of time, he needs to know who to call for information and to be confident that telephone calls will be returned. The best economic development group in the world is the country of Singapore, he said.

“I know who to call in Singapore,” he said.

Sheehy’s points about Otsego County must be answered, said Seward, who plans to convene a group to address questions, such as designating a “go-to” entity.

“We’re both in the middle of everywhere and in the middle of nowhere,” Seward said. “We need to carve out our identity.”

The summit Thursday was a “great next step” after Seward’s meeting last year, Larry Malone, Oneonta Common Council member from the Second Ward and an economics professor at Hartwick College, said. And the event also was a valuable opportunity also to network with others, he said.

In terms of economic development, the area might be able to attract a business that is ancillary to nanotechnology development, Malone said, and Oneonta could offer sites for conferences or corporate retreats.

The summit generated ideas and conversation, state Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, but to be effective a common vision is needed.

“It’s good to bring people together,” Lopez said. “The challenge is, what’s the follow-up?”

Lopez said he would ask Seward for an invitation to participate in the post-summit group.

Sharon Oberriter, a member of the Otsego IDA, said she will study the information presented Thursday at the summit, which she described as a “phenomenal thinking experience.”

“It looks like we have options in many directions,” Oberriter said.