GUEST EDITORIAL in THE JOB SCENE
By AL CLEINMAN • Special to AllOTSEGO.com
Editor’s Note: Alan Cleinman is the founder and CEO of Cleinman Performance Partners, an Oneonta based consultancy serving North America’s eye care industry. He chose to “come home to Otsego.”
By 1830, following one of the largest land-development experiments in our young nation’s history, William Cooper had attracted over 50,000 people to Otsego County. It took him only 40 years to accomplish that feat!
Since then, Otsego County has experienced the opposite in terms of population growth; During the ensuing 188 years we’ve managed to attract just 8,700 more souls to our oasis. And we’re currently smack-dab in the midst of a population contraction. Over 2000 people have abandoned our county since 2010!
What does this mean for the rest of us? Forgetting increases in government spending and inflation, the population decline results in annual increases in our INDIVIDUAL tax burden! Year in; year out. This tax-burden increase is not sustainable!
As a businessman, I’ve been trained to look beyond symptoms to uncover the solution to a problem or opportunity. While our population decline is not unique to our area, what may be unique is that the solution lies right under our nose.
Our area enjoys a myriad of amazing assets. In addition to our breath-taking natural beauty and our world-class cultural resources, we are blessed with nationally recognized educational institutions. SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College produce about 1300 graduates each year. Most of them leave our area to seek their fortunes elsewhere. These institutions now have over 87,000 alumni scattered around the globe. Many of our institution’s graduates have gone on to become successful by every measurement. Unfortunately, the vast majority make their contributions elsewhere. It’s time to change that.
As I began last year, I call upon our leaders to engage in a “Come Home to Otsego” campaign. Gone are the days when there exists a significant return on development investment by recruiting hard asset-based companies and manufacturing jobs. Our areas future lies with the knowledge economy, which now employs 50% of our workforce. Knowledge industries are those which are based on the intensive use of technology and human capital, including education, consulting, finance, insurance, health service, and communications. As important as manufacturing is to our economy, our future lies not in producing widgets, but in exporting knowledge. Knowledge industries make a difference in the world while consuming exponentially fewer natural resources than does manufacturing; perfect for an area blessed with natural beauty.
As the leader of a nationally prominent consulting firm with headquarters in downtown Oneonta, I know first-hand the impact of this segment of the economy. Our knowledge firm enjoys a 30-year history of improving the lives of our stakeholders, whether client, employee or community. A decade ago, we were the recipient of a $30,000 façade grant from the City of Oneonta and a $100,000 loan (paid-off early) from what was then our county’s Industrial Development Agency (now Otsego 2000). These funds were used to expand our facility in downtown Oneonta. In the midst of the deepest recession in history, the funds allowed us to expand our employment, and our business. A decade later, that small investment has turned into over $3,400,000 in additional community investment; increased payroll, tax payments, local services and support for local charities. That small grant has delivered a direct return to the area of more than 100 times the investment!
Our county’s development challenge is one of focus. We have 87,000 alumni and 1300 annual graduates who know the attributes of our area. They have fond memories of their times in the county. Many now have businesses that can be moved and investments to be made. Based on national statistics, over 4000 of them work from home. Why not do so in Otsego County?
Let’s develop an organized and focused approach to the development of a knowledge economy. Let’s redirect our limited development dollars from attempting to attract heavy industry and focus on attracting entrepreneurs to develop and bring their knowledge businesses to Otsego County. Let’s work to attract and develop the kinds of businesses that are environmentally friendly; those that will provide opportunity for our graduating students?
I’m committed to making a difference. During 2020, our small firm will increase our employment by 10% by hiring SUNY or Hartwick graduates. It is my intention to provide them with opportunity right here in Otsego County; to convince them to stay. I call on my fellow business and institutional leaders to do the same. I ask our political leaders to work to execute a focused campaign that will reconnect our institutions’ alumni with our area and assist our local firms with providing employment opportunities to those 1300 graduates who walk away each and every year. Let’s keep them here!
The result of retaining even 1% of our local institutions’ graduates will deliver millions of needed dollars to our economy. These individuals will one-day buy or build homes, fill our schools and our restaurants. They’ll drive our economy to higher ground. They represent the answer to a challenging circumstance.
We can accomplish this goal through a variety of initiatives, all focused on developing the opportunity “up the hill”. Why not:
- Develop and execute Entrepreneurial Business Plan Contests with capital support for business students to develop new retail concepts that can be tested in our now empty downtown store fronts.
- Develop incubator and venture capital support for entrepreneurial initiatives that are willing to locate to or within our county.
- Execute communication campaigns in collaboration with our educational institutions to attract our alumni back to our area.
- Develop focused support to attract knowledge-based businesses.
Knowledge workers today represent almost 50% of our economy. Otsego County is not realizing its share. Let’s get focused on knowledge-based business development. The answer to our population and tax-burden challenges lies right under our nose.