Forums May Build ‘Single Point Of Contact’
By JIM KEVLIN•HOMETOWN ONEONTA
Edition of Friday, Oct. 17, 2014
Three forums for small-business owners – in a month or so – are being planned, with a goal of achieving what’s been an elusive “single point of contact” for economic development in Otsego County.
“We want to outreach to people in the trenches,” Bob Hanft, county Industrial Development Agency chair, told the county board’s Intergovernmental (IGA) Committee – its responsibilities include economic development – at a meeting Thursday, Oct. 9, in the County Office Building here. “We haven’t reached out to the small-business community and asked: What do you need?”
As Hanft described it, the forums will be the basis of a plan of service, developed by the IDA, to fill the needs of the county’s small businesses, and the county board – it is in the process of developing its 2015 budget – would then fund it at the appropriate level.
The Otsego County and Cooperstown chambers of commerce have signed on, and will encourage their membership – about 1,000 in all – to participate in the forums. The resulting programs would absorb the current county program, what remains of the county Economic Development Office, recently placed in an expanded Department of Planning, Solid Waste & Economic Development Office.
Hanft was accompanied by IDA President Sandy Mathes and COO Elizabeth Horvath, but also Barbara Ann Heegan, Otsego County president/CEO, who communicated she supported this united initiative. The county board chair, Kathy Clark, R-Otego, had invited the group in. “Our goal is to have this ‘one stop’,” she said.
Hanft said he’d sat down a few evenings before and made a list of the services small businesses might want: Financial planning, quality control, interns from SUNY Oneonta or Hartwick, space (the IDA rented the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta, for like purposes), strategic planning, access to capital, cash-flow, accounting, payroll – the list went on and on. He provided committee members with three pages of ideas.
“The scope of services can be extremely broad,” Hanft said – for instance, a Small Business Resource Center.
County Rep. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta, said the idea is for the county to “crawl, walk, run” into a collaboration with the IDA and chambers. But, he added, “we’re ready to move forward. We need you now. We want a one-stop shop. We want you to answer the phone. We want you to send people where they need to be.”
“We have to start with the needs of the customer,” the small-business owner, agreed county Rep. Rick Hulse, R-Otsego, who has been a key participant in IGA discussions. He also expressed interest in the collaboration, although more cautiously. “We have to tightly define what the county does with the IDA,” he said.
Other committee members attending the session in the county office building were IGA chair Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Edmeston, and county Reps.Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, and Beth Rosenthal, D-Roseboom. County Planning Director Karen Sullivan, who has been assigned economic-development responsibilities for now, also attended.
Attendees at the second “Seward Summit” last November at Foothills emerged with an understanding that a “single point of contact,” as well as “shovel ready sites,” was essential to successful economic recruitment.
With state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, taking the lead, the IDA recruited Mathes, the former Greene County economic developer, and – as Hanft reiterated – committed $3 million of its resources in a three-year drive to increase in-county employment.
So far, Mathes has identified an expansion of Pony Farm Industrial Park, Town of Oneonta, and a prospective 140-acre business-park site outside Richfield Springs for “shovel-ready” efforts.
Also, the IDA re-launched a broad-band initiative, funded and helped organize a community-planning effort now underway in Cooperstown, and submitted a record number of CFAs – comprehensive funding applications required to obtain state ec-dev funding – in a round due to be announced Oct. 15-16.
On the small-business end, the IDA last spring asked the county to contribute an estimated $250,000 it had been spending on its Economic Development Office. The IGA balked, and decide to attempt to continue some of the functions of its former Economic Development Office.