By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Not only did the USDA assistant secretary for Rural Development learn about Upstate declining population at her visit to Hartwick College this morning, she got a sense of the impacts.
In her opening remarks, Hartwick President Margaret L. Drugovich reported a 17 percent decline in high school graduates between 2009 and 2017, and some predictions of “another 4-8 percent in the next 15 years,” a challenge for Upstate liberal arts colleges.
“These are the kind of things on my mind when we think about economic development,” said Drugovich, economic development being one of the topic when Anne Hazlett, the USDA official charged with rural development, convened a two-hour forum of a dozen community leaders in Shineman Chapel.
U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, who accompanied Hazlett, expanded on the data, noting 50 of 57 Upstate counties are losing population. The exceptions include Jefferson, home to Fort Drum, and Saratoga, a tourism magnet and home to the Global Crossing chipmaker at Malta.
That trend informed much of the subsequent commentary:
- Tom Armao, Otsego Now board member and Country Club Automotive proprietor: “Florida has more population than we (New York State) do, and our budget is twice the size.”
- Sidney Mayor Andy Matviak, noting Amphenol and Acco have 1,800 jobs there: “We don’t have a problem with jobs. We have a problem filling jobs.”
- President Drugovich reported on the college’s efforts to promoted entrepreneurship, singling out the Center for Craft Food & Beverage as a “virtuous circle,” promoting the growth of micro-breweries, which in turn create jobs for graduates.
- Brooks B-B-Q President Ryan Brooks reported losing “long-long-term employees to The South,” the Carolinas, Texas and elsewhere.
Near the end of the session, Armao interjected: NYSEG has failed the region, as there is insufficient natural gas or electricity to serve any significant new customers.
He mentioned a recent company looking for a site for a 300-job plant that couldn’t be accommodated. “It’s also 300 families whose lives (would have) improved.”
Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky picked up on that in his comments on how the two colleges, Fox Hospital and other major institutions are subjected to “interruptible power.”
“NYSEG can call in November and say, ‘We have to shut you off for a week.’ That’s unheard of,” said Zakrevsky, who with Armao, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and others are due for a follow-up meeting on this issue May 5 with NYSEG President Carl Taylor.
Comment on broadband was also solicited by Hazlett, with Otsego Electric Coop President Tim Cook being the most bullish. It is stringing broadband wire along its 750 miles of existing poles in western Otsego County.
“We saw huge pent-up demand,” he said.
Hazlett was there to assess the needs of Otsego and Delaware counties, and to funnel her finds to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.
In addition to direct aid – Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig pointed out 7,000 college students push the city’s population to 14,000, above the 10,000 eligibility ceiling for USDA – Kinderhook Bank Vice President Ann Finnegan underscored the important of loan guarantees.