Editor’s Note: This editorial is reprinted from this week’s editions of Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal, on newsstands now.
One, fingers crossed. Advances in cancer-fighting research can mean five years, 10 years – and more – of active living. Everyone’s got a story of a happy outcome.
Two, reflections immediately come to mind on the ongoing Seward Era of Otsego County politics. It’s been a charmed one, and to reflect on it underscores how his recovery will be good news for all of us.
Just think about this decade, the State Sen. Jim Seward Decade, if you will.
He’s actually served as Otsego County state senator since 1986 and is now in his 32nd term – but it’s most impressive what he’s been able to accomplish since December 2011, when he was confronted by the newly formed Citizen Voices during one of its first meetings at Oneonta’s Carriage House.
You aren’t doing enough for economic development, the businesspeople told him.
Three months later, on March 12, 2012, Senator Seward convened his first, history-making “Seward Summit” at The Otesaga, attended by 300 shakers and movers from around the county.
We forget now, but that day many community leaders from Oneonta, Cooperstown and county government met each other for the first time – today, everybody pretty much knows everybody else. Seward brought us all together.
Remember that day? Seward was actually chided for being “too hard on us” about economic development efforts, but he held firm: Other communities in his 10-county district were actually doing better. Who? For instance, Greene County, he replied.
With the senator leading the charge, that led to the recruitment in January 2014 of Sandy Mathes, former Greene County economic developer.
By then, the senator had convened a second “Seward Summit” on Nov. 14, 2013, at Foothills, where Dick Sheehy, site selection director CH2M Hill, the international industrial recruitment firm, told us two things no one who cares about economic development can forget.
One, there needs to be a “single point of contact,” so someone looking to locate a business in Otsego County only needs to make one call. Two, shovel-ready sites – if a business wants to come here, it wants to come here now!
On Jan. 10, 2014, Mathes – he and Seward had known each other for decades, when they were both aides to state Sen. Charles Cook – was hired as that “single point of contact.”
A whirlwind of activity followed. Mathes straightened out the county Economic Development Office’s finances, pushed updates to local Comprehensive Master Plans, captured record millions in state CFA grants, and hatched exciting plans for Oneonta, Cooperstown and Richfield Springs, all of which are still bearing fruit.
If Mathes was the spark plug, Seward was the steady hand on the wheel.
With today’s Trump Economy, we forget how dim our prospects looked in the first half of the decade. Senator Seward’s initiatives caused us to do what we needed to do in slow times: lay the foundation for the rebound.
When Governor Cuomo’s exciting Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) surfaced, Mathes was on it, brought aboard Oneonta’s new mayor, an enthusiastic Gary Herzig, hurried through the application and won the state’s first DRI designation for the City of the Hills.
Mathes eventually got caught in the crossfire of poisonous county politics – in the end, Seward couldn’t save him – but what began in the first “Seward Summit” can be tied to most every positive economic initiative we see around us today.
In Oneonta, the D&H railyards has won SEQRA approval and is “shovel ready.” In Cooperstown, millions in state grants are in hand for Doubleday Field’s restoration. In Richfield Springs, a long-dormant industrial site by next year will be the new home to Andela Products, the glass recycler.
And while Mathes moved on, his successor at the county department that evolved into Otsego Now – Jody Zakrevsky, who says he isn’t a visionary, but can bring others’ concepts to fruition – is pushing Mathes’ agenda forward.
At last week’s Otsego County Board of Representatives’ meeting, Zakrevsky reported one exciting initiative after another, from the $100,000 grant for the Cooperstown Distillery expansion, to the Halal Meat Processing Plant for kosher and other products, to $1 million in grants for Springbrook to renovate the upper stories of Oneonta’s historic Ford Block, overlooking Mueller Plaza, to Custom Electronics’ latest long-lasting battery, now being embraced on Hollywood film sets – that’s a lot of activity, and there’s much more.
2011 to 2019 – it’s the Seward Decade.
Of course, every decade has been more or less a Seward Decade since, graduating from Hartwick College in 1973, he began his impressive career.
Almost everywhere you look, there’s a Seward imprint, on buildings, on fire department fleets, on people he’s helped, on friends he’s made.
As of this writing on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 12, there were 419 “comments” – praise and encouragement – on the item that announces his setback on the “Senator Jim Seward Facebook” page.
If you haven’t already, go to the site and post a simple “get well soon” – the universal wish.