By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
SCHENEVUS –‘A businessman’s approach.”
That’s how Peter Oberacker, hand-picked to succeed state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, describes what he would take to the state Senate if elected Nov. 3.
That approach has guided the job he’s done as Maryland town board member, then town supervisor and, for five years now, county representative from Schenevus, Worcester, Westford and Decatur.
He uses the term “ROI” – return on investment. “Where do we get the most satisfaction for what we’re spending?” Oberacker, 57, asked during a Friday, Oct. 16, interview in the renovated barn on Route 7 east of here, headquarters of Form Tech Solutions, a culinary research firm the CEO operates with COO Ron Wheeler, who’s also his campaign manager.
As town supervisor, Oberacker’s main concern was maintaining and plowing 61 miles of road with decrepit equipment. Instead of buying new, Oberacker determined to lease equipment.
At the end of five years of operating new leased trucks, enough money had been saved
to expand the Maryland Highway Department’s fleet, with more new leased trucks.
Elected to the county board in 2015, he proposed – as Public Works Committee chairman – doing the same with the county’s fleet, with similar results – dependable vehicles at less cost. (He’s also vice chair
of the Administration Committee, and serves on Public Safety, Intergovernmental Affairs, and the Budget and Negotiations committees.)
Oberacker, born on Merrick, L.I., was introduced to private enterprise early in life. When he graduated from SUNY Delhi, he joined his dad, also Peter Oberacker, in operating Spicey Pete’s Meats, a market in Schenevus that, as its height, had an outlet in Cooperstown’s Danny’s Main Street Market.
While his dad provided exemplified entrepreneurship, mom Carolann exemplified public service as a 25-year Maryland town justice. She passed away in 2009; his father in 1993. In 1990, Peter – brother Karl, now of Albany, and sister Cheryl Delello of Oneonta, also survived – joined Conagra, then Budenheim, food research and marketing companies.
When Budenheim eliminated his division, in 2004, it was a blow. But, inspired by watching
Mel Gibson rally his men on “Braveheart” in the wee hours one morning, Oberacker hammered out a business plan, called Budenheim colleague Wheeler at dawn, and the two founded Form Tech.
The partners ran the product development and market research firm in College Station, Texas – ask him about allergen-free soy sauce, one big success. In 2018 – with Oberacker focused on county politics and bringing a distribution center to I-88’s Exit 18 at Schenevus –company headquarters were moved here.
He continues to promote the distribution center – aimed at mega e-marketing companies, from Google on down – and is working on making the site shovel-ready. The other day, he was able to show where an 8-inch main is being put under Route 7 to serve the site’s south end; on the north end, water is available from Smokey Avenue.
As a county rep, Oberacker is also pushing ahead a four-town consolidation plan – it would be a statewide model.
He and Wheeler continue to operate Form Tech, although it is on the market. Their new focus is Sparrow Hawk Winery, where the men are planning to produce a semi-dry Riesling using a newly developed
grape, La Crossaint, within a couple of growing seasons.
With so much on his plate, you can imagine Oberacker’s surprise when the phone rang over the winter. It was Seward, announcing he didn’t plan to run again and suggesting the county rep run to succeed him.
“I was always impressed with Peter,” said Seward, who had known his parents. “He had local government experience; he had private sector experience.” It would later impress the senator that,, after the candidate introduced himself to county chairmen in the nine counties, no primary challenge surfaced.
Still, “your head starts spinning,” Oberacker said, as he reflected on the time commitment, the prospective public criticism, and the toll on the family – wife Shannon, son Derek, 29, and daughter Holli, 31, a teacher in Milford, Conn. “Jim set a high bar,” he added.
“My expertise,” he said, “is with local governance, and how Albany effects local government.” He’s always been guided by a “bottom up” approach, which he plans to follow if elected on Nov. 3.
He’s committed, as are most candidates, to getting broadband everywhere. “It’s akin to the 1930s,” he said, “when they ran electrical lines.”
He’s also committed to expanding support to local fire departments and EMTs after son Derek was injured in a farm accident and his father, a member of the fire department, waited, listening to the signal, for a volunteer ambulance crew to arrive.
“My son” – now recovered – “will be here,” the father said with some emotion. “He’s going to stay here. He’s going to raise my grandchildren here.
“If I can keep half as much as I experienced growing up here,” he said, “I’ll be satisfied.”