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County Or Not, Ec-Dev Will Advance, He Says



Lack of participation by Otsego County’s government won’t slow the “single point of contact” effort to bring business and jobs here.

That’s the message that Bob Hanft, Pierstown, elected chairman of the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Wednesday, June 25, delivered during an Independence Day interview.

“It’s not going to affect us,” Hanft, former chair of the Hartwick College Board of Trustees and a retired Wall Street banker, said of the county Intergovernmental Affairs Committee’s decision not to participate, for the time being anyhow, in the IDA’s new initiative.

“We’ve got so many good things that we’re going to be working on that are going to have such a positive impact,” he said. “To me, it’s a proportionate issue. We’re probably driving 95 percent of the activity. There’s 5 percent left behind, that maybe they (the IGA and Board of Representatives) will be able to figure out.”

Hanft, who has served on the IDA board since 2010, succeeds Sharon Oberriter, Fly Creek, retired co-founder, with husband Don, of Cooperstown Bat Co. Over the past year, she oversaw the IDA’s absorption of the county Economic Development Department’s job-creation duties.

Even before then, “the IDA was a very positive force,” said Hanft. “We did a lot of good things and helped a lot of organizations: Springbrook, Hartwick, the Soccer Hall of Fame” – its conversion to Ioxus – “the Bresee’s redevelopment. But a lot of it was done under the radar, and we were resource-constrained.”

But “a period of reflection,” book-ended by state Sen. Jim Seward’s two “economic development summits” – March 2012 at The Otesaga; last November at Foothills – led to the IDA stepping up as the “single point of contact” for economic development, he said.

That made sense for IDA, he continued, due to its powers to grant tax-abatements, PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) and tax-exempt financing; “plus, we had the financial resources that nobody else has.”

While the IDA’s commitment has been characterized as $3 million over three years, Hanft said it only needs to generate $400,000 annually to “keep the doors open,” a much more doable challenge, given that Newman Development Corp.’s fee alone was $250,000 to finance the 320-student housing project near SUNY Oneonta.

“The county has never considered economic development a priority by any stretch of the imagination,” he continued, and the recession, high state taxes and the “public outcry” by such groups as Citizen Voices called for a new approach.

The shift away from the county has been good in several ways, Hanft continued: “We’re only in the first six months of this. We’ve hired people, we’ve moved locations (to the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta’s tallest downtown building.) We’ve accelerated the beginnings of this at a dramatic pace.”

Employees are no longer county employees, subject to Civil Service testing; this has streamlined hiring, beginning with the recruitment of Sandy Mathes, the former Greene County economic developer, as IDA president. “He’s done a fantastic job getting us started,” Hanft said. Elizabeth Horvath, Cooperstown, a Harvard-educated business consultant, is the new COO.

More CFAs have been submitted – CFAs are the state’s comprehensive funding applications, required to access any and all economic-development grants under the Cuomo Administration – than ever before, Hanft said. They include $11 million for an agri-business hub in Oneonta, and $90,000 for a market analysis of Cooperstown and a visioning process to update the village’s Comprehensive Master Plan.

What grants are funded – decisions are expected in October, before the November elections when Governor Cuomo is up for a second term – will determine many priorities, Hanft said. However, some initiatives – notably the upgrade of the Pony Farm Industrial Park, Town of Oneonta, as the first “shovel ready” development site – will go forward regardless, he said.

Another is the prospective Susquehanna Regional Center for Jobs & Entrepreneurship. SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College have been invited to participate.


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