Our local economy has been flat, if not in decline, for decades. We have a 16 percent poverty level, an underestimated unemployment rate of nearly 8 percent, an exodus of young people, rising prices, and a median household income of around $40,000 a year. Not so great.
Our economic planners have focused on luring outside businesses into the area — whether it’s manufacturing or tourism. Since everybody else is trying to do the same thing, often with advantages we lack, it’s no wonder this strategy has failed.
Unfortunately, capital-intensive industries like manufacturing produce fewer and fewer jobs. Armies of well-paid assembly line workers are a thing of the past. Economic developers are chasing a mirage by pursuing such industries, especially in a remote rural county like ours.
Tourism has been maxed out for years. It’s a secondary not a primary industry dependent on discretionary income. If economic hard times intensify, it will be among the first to go.
Other options are also limited: Bassett Healthcare’s incredible expansion is mostly completed. And our colleges do not interact productively with the community. Apart from Hartwick’s nursing program — they produce few students with relevant local skills.
So let’s revisit some fundamentals: Wealth is created through value-added production utilizing existing resources. Our economic boosters, intent on finding a savior from outside, tend to discount the potential of local resources.
And what are those resources? Good water and land, above all, with the potential not only to support a vibrant agriculture of field crops, livestock, fruits, forest products, and specialty crops, but even more the value-added products they make possible.
Such products — from wine and beer and other beverages to yoghurt, cheese, and animal products, to honey, syrup, and furniture products, and whatever inventive imaginations can conceive — are arguably our best path forward.