By MIKE ZAGATA
When we live in a community for a lengthy period, we tend to become “comfortable” with those with whom we attend church, purchase services from, hire to do household repairs and who sell us the various products we need. Indeed, over time we simply assume they will always be there. Is that true in Oneonta or, for that matter, in Upstate New York?
This past week I had a shock to my comfort-meter. I was in the process of purchasing a car for my wife and needed a proof-of-insurance card from my agent. The sales person was given the contact information for the agency and I assumed all was well – well, why wouldn’t it be? My family had done business with that agency for decades.
Then a call with a “518” area code was announced on my cell phone with a quacking sound. When I answered it, the lady on the phone explained that she worked for my insurance agency and was calling to confirm that I was indeed buying vehicle from that dealership. That was both good and bad.
Good because she was doing her job in a very professional way. Bad because she was calling me from Albany. What had happened to my hometown insurance provider?
I called the agency office to speak with the lady who handles our account and learned she was no longer there. What was happening – my world was shaken. I asked to have a member of the management team call me.
He did and we spent a wonderful, but sad, hour talking about what had happened to my hometown agency and why.
Because the area’s economy is in the toilet, taxes are high, and young and old people are leaving the area, the company found itself in a shrinking box – they couldn’t provide the broad range of services, markets and products they needed to offer to compete in today’s insurance world, nor could they find or attract the people with the needed skill-sets to fuel the necessary growth to support their communities and the families that live in them.
The candidates they needed to hire had already moved to more economically vibrant areas. The agency very much wanted to remain in Oneonta, but, like any small business, if you can’t compete you can’t survive.
The option that made good business and moral sense was to be bought by a larger agency that had offices in the kind of metropolitan areas that attract people with the needed skill-sets.
They, like other local businesses, could have opted to close their doors. That would have meant economic hardship to the affected employees and likely higher taxes for the rest of us. Instead, they are still here, and the fact that management took the time to address my concern bodes well for all of us who benefit from their presence.
Then I realized this wasn’t a unique situation.
Each week a group of local business persons, Citizen Voices, meets to talk about ways to improve our economy, keep or attract young people and be able to provide natural gas and electricity to both domestic and commercial use. The story above is being repeated every day, and not just in Oneonta.
Recently a local newspaper closed after being in business 100 years. The VW dealership on Southside is gone. A multi-generation body shop was sold to an out-of-town company that has since been bought by an even larger company.
The money that once circulated in Oneonta, like the revenue taken in by the big-box stores, now leaves our community. Schools are being forced to lose their identity by merging. Business owners are buying businesses elsewhere to keep their Oneonta operation open.
A business in Delhi is doing very well because its owner was willing to take a huge financial gamble, work very hard, and reach out to more economically vibrant areas.
What I’m attempting to point out is that the community vibrancy, values and charm that those who oppose increasing the supply of natural gas and growing our economy say they are trying to protect have, for the most part, already been lost. Either those people don’t know where to look or, if they weren’t raised in the area, they don’t know what to look for.
It’s really all about connecting the dots and remembering one’s high school physics – for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.
One dot includes the fact that in excess of 50 percent of the City of Oneonta’s property is off the tax rolls. That means people living in the city are paying double the taxes they should be for the same level of services.
Another dot involves the loss of agriculture and its multiplier effect on the economy.
Another dot is the lack of broadband capacity and availability.
Another dot involves the lack of natural gas to meet current demand and future demand from any business growth that Otsego Now is working to attract.
But the biggest dot seems to be those organizations and individuals that continue to try to impose their will on the rest of those in the community that would like to see the area prosper culturally, economically, aesthetically and environmentally.
Those things are not mutually exclusive and those who believe they are must be challenged with the facts. It’s time to come together and realize that climate change may well be more about forcing social change than preventing the predicted catastrophes if we don’t act yesterday.
Natural processes don’t happen that fast and neither does social change.
Renewables have a future and we should all cheer for their success, but right now they’re not yet even in the game.
Germany has admitted failure in attaining its ambitious goals and the people of France rioted in the streets at the mention of a carbon tax – a tax that would only affect 20 percent of their produced energy, as 80 percent comes from nuclear power.
If the Governor’s goal for reducing carbon is going to be met by 2040, it’s going to have to come from natural gas and nuclear. The large-scale deployment of wind power and solar farms will continue to have their own sets of environmental and social issues, but the big nut they will have to crack is the lack of constancy and reliability.
We simply don’t yet have a method of storage that allows the energy from wind and solar to be where it is needed when it is needed there. Lithium-ion batteries aren’t the panacea they appear to be as an analysis of their life cycle, from mining the raw material for their manufacture through their disposal or recycling, shows them to be Carbon negative.
Technology has always been able to come to the rescue and we can only HOPE that it does so again.
Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner during the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in Davenport.