BRIEFING IN SCHENEVUS
75 Attendees Provided Details
Of Hunt For Distribution Center
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.allotsego.com
SCHENEVUS – “Welcome,” an audience member called out when Otsego Now CEO Sandy Mathes finished introducing the concept of a 250- to 600-job distribution center to a community whose commercial base dropped from 57 businesses to a handful in the last half-century.
Even with 90 minutes of sometimes probing questions that followed from the 75 citizens at the AMVETS this evening, the audience broke into applause when the presentation and Q&A came to an end.
“We will be as aggressive as we can to maximize the local benefits,” Mathes pledged at several points.
But he also referred to the uncertainty and strategic nature of what lies ahead for 600-resident Schenevus and the Town of Maryland (total population 1,897) over the next couple of years.
“It’s like making a sports team,” he said. “You’ve got to make the cut.”
Mathes’ appearance was much anticipated since the news broke Jan. 26 on www.allotsego.com that the Otsego Now board of directors had approved negotiating a three-year option on 175 acres owned by Ron and Helen Kinch at Interstate 88’s Exit 18.
The state’s inventory of distribution-center sites has dwindled to “fewer than five,” Mathes has said. So the goal is to attract a large JIT (just in time) warehousing operation, similar to Target’s at Amsterdam or Walmart’s near Sharon Spring, to a flat parcel on a rise just across Route 7 from the Interstate exit.
“I’ve been in touch with the state,” he reported, “and they like this site a lot.”
If the challenge is like making a sports team, then Mathes introduced two coaches to this evening’s attendees:
- Mary Beth Bianconi from Delaware Engineering, Oneonta, who has been involved in preparing the shovel-ready site at Pony Farm and other projects, and
- Lisa Nagle, a principal from Elan Planning, the Saratoga-based consultants, who has guided comprehensive master plan updates for Cooperstown and Richfield Springs.
In preparing the SEQRA review – the state-mandated environmental review – Bianconi will be estimating traffic impacts and access, examining the suitability of the prospective use, and determining such technical issues as runoff of water that is now absorb into the cornfields there.
Nagle described how she will be advising a citizens group, to be appointed by the Maryland Town Board, in updating the community’s master plan to ensure the project is in synch with the community’s wishes. “In today’s world,” she said, “you will not get grants if yours is not up-to-date.”
She also pointed out that the updated plan will also have to reflect thinking about the future development of the Route 7 corridor, given new demands created by the distribution center, and the impacts and benefits from Worcester to Colliersville.
Mathes called the Schenevus project and redevelopment of Oneonta’s D&H yards “bookends” in a corridor of future prosperity, with a redeveloped downtown Oneonta – focus of the $10 million DRI (downtown redevelopment initiative) – in the middle.
Issues were raised.
During the Q&A, John Tauzel, local farmer and civic leader, asked about PILOTs, and Mathes said, given the in-state tax burden, “There’s no way a company comes to New York without a PILOT.” Whatever, an audience member pointed out, taxes will be significantly greater than on open farmland.
Will local people get the jobs? Mathes reported meeting in recent days with Schenevus Superintendent of Schools Tom Jennings to develop a “pipeline with local schools.” Distribution centers require a “trainable workforce” with high school diplomas and a work ethic. “They (the company) will be training them in the processes,” he said.
There will also be opportunities for advance that will require certificates – in technical areas in particular – as well as sales, accounting the management positions, he said.
A neighbor, Teresa Kibbe, raised several issues on potential impacts, including possible fumes from rigs entering and exiting the site, provoking a back-and-forth with another audience member on how clean modern-day tractor-trailers are required to be.
On issues of salaries, benefits and pensions, Mathes, while emphasizing the need to negotiate to get a company here, repeatedly said that whatever comes will be a “good company,” offering above-minimum wages plus benefits and add-ons.
At a couple of points, the discussion bumped into county-wide realities.
Bob Parmerter, retired Schenevus Central teacher and the town historian, reported he’d heard Otesaga executives discuss their worker shortage – the resort hotel can only fill 80 percent of its jobs – and, as limiting, a lack of worker housing.
Mathes said Otsego Now’s workforce development specialist, Patrick Doyle, will be working on the first issue. Appropriate housing sites will be identified in the comprehensive plan update, and Otsego Now is also conducting a housing-needs study countywide.
“The easy answer is to not develop any new jobs,” said Mathes. “We don’t accept that. We have to fight our way out of it.”