Federal, state, and local representatives all agreed broadband access remains a significant impediment to Otsego County’s economic growth as they spoke to the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s virtual “2022 State of the State” presentation on January 11.
The Chamber lined up Congressman Antonio Delgado, State Senator Peter Oberacker, Members of Assembly Chris Tague, John Salka, and Brian Miller, County Board of Representatives Chair David Bliss, Oneonta Mayor Mark Drnek, and Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh to outline their respective priorities for the year ahead. Infrastructure — which includes rural broadband — was high on everyone’s list.
“Washington talked about infrastructure for decades,” Rep. Delgado said in his keynote address. “Finally in 2021 we were able to come together and get something done. Based on formula funding alone, New York should get $1 billion in highway repair funds, $2 billion for bridges, and $100 million for broadband access across the state.”
“We know how critical broadband is in our community and it’s imperative that we make a massive, massive investment in it,” he said. “It’s what drives farms, seniors, small businesses.”
The Congressman talked, too, about initiatives to foster manufacturing jobs in and around Otsego County.
“COVID has showed us we rely too much on foreign production and manufacturing,” he said. “We need to double back down on creating local manufacturing jobs that don’t get caught up in supply chain worries.”
County Board Chair David Bliss echoed Rep. Delgado’s themes, telling Chamber members of the “good projects” on tap for the next year.
“Senator Chuck Schumer is working with Corning and with us to expand the Oneonta facility out for medical equipment manufacture,” he said, calling it a ‘game changer’ for the entire county and “especially for Oneonta.”
He spoke, too, to the broadband question, turning more to the regulatory structure in place limiting the Otsego Electric Cooperative’s access to a market controlled now by other providers.
“We have the funding in place to expand broadband to some extent,” he said. “We need the regulations at the state and federal level to change, we need the legislation to allow the Co-op to do the work.”
Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh told Chamber members that her village had been hard-hit by the pandemic’s impact on the tourism industry, amounting to some $1 million in lost revenue from parking, sales tax, and Doubleday Field rental. Federal population-based COVID aid covered less than 10 percent of that loss.
Mayor Tillapaugh said despite the comparatively small federal relief and a sales tax distribution formula that means “Oneonta gets more money on sales on Main Street in Cooperstown than we do,” the village nonetheless relies on its success with grant writing to fund various public projects.
“We’ve eliminated no positions and furloughed no employees through the pandemic,” she said. “We thought times were hard enough on people, we didn’t need to add to it.”
She said the village will build in 2022 on the projects already funded, such as upgrades to Main Street’s Pioneer Park, and move forward with the completion of upgrades to Doubleday Field and the construction of new apartments on existing commercial space on Chestnut Street.
Oneonta’s new mayor, Mark Drnek, finished the presentations and told the Chamber he is looking forward to “some really exciting stuff” as the new year and his new term unfold.
“We have all the park improvements coming from the federal funding,” he said. “We have the Dietz Street lofts that will bring people downtown. Market Street and downtown revitalization.”
He said he wants to work with Mayor Tillapaugh and other regional leaders to team up on a ‘destination marketing’ strategy inviting visitors and businesses to the region.
Moderating the discussion, Chamber interim president and CEO Al Rubin thanked the public officials for participating and said he and the Chamber look forward to the day when the popular event returns to an in-person presentation.