ONEONTA – Bob Hanft ’69 of Cooperstown, ’69, former chair of the Hartwick College trustees and an Otsego County community leader, will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 2018 Commencement at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 19, on Elmore Field.
Also at the graduation, Trustee Virginia (Ginny) Elwell ’77 will receive a honorary doctor of laws degree, and Linda Reckhow Thomson ’72, Ph.D., M.S.N., will be awarded the President’s Award for Liberal Arts in Practice.
Sandy Mathes, who revolutionized economic development in Otsego County in the past three years, has given the 90-day notice required by his contract, and will be departing as CEO of the Otsego Now organization he created by summer’s end.
As if to punctuate the end of an era, Bob Hanft of Pierstown, who chaired what was then the county IDA when Mathes was brought aboard in January 2014, and veteran board member Jim Salisbury of Otego, announced at today’s board meeting they are leaving the Otsego Now board.
Hanft, the retired J.P. Morgan managing director, was typically diplomatic, thanking his colleagues for “a great seven years,” and adding, “We always said this thing is a marathon, and it is.”
But Salisbury, a retired banker, was blunt. “I’m done with this organization. ’Bye.” And he walked out.
New board member Cheryl Robinson, who chaired the board’s recently formed Reorganization Committee that proposed replacing Mathes with a full-time executive, moved to abolish the committee, which is “at the end of its charter,” she said.
ONEONTA – The Otsego Now board of directors, at its monthly meeting Thursday, approved minutes of its new Reorganization Committee that includes among the committee’s goals: “engage in a search and hire a full-time CEO.”
The 2-5 vote came over the objections of board member Bob Hanft, immediate past chairman. He said including that line in the Reorganization Committee’s 11 “duties and responsibilities” will only serve to slow Otsego Now’s current momentum. “I think it does more harm than good.”
Hanft said the committee had been directed to come up with a plan for the future, and that taking on the mandate of seeking a new CEO should come only after a plan is developed and approved. “I think that’s line should be stricken,” he said.
Three forums for small-business owners – in a month or so – are being planned, with a goal of achieving what’s been an elusive “single point of contact” for economic development in Otsego County.
“We want to outreach to people in the trenches,” Bob Hanft, county Industrial Development Agency chair, told the county board’s Intergovernmental (IGA) Committee – its responsibilities include economic development – at a meeting Thursday, Oct. 9, in the County Office Building here. “We haven’t reached out to the small-business community and asked: What do you need?”
As Hanft described it, the forums will be the basis of a plan of service, developed by the IDA, to fill the needs of the county’s small businesses, and the county board – it is in the process of developing its 2015 budget – would then fund it at the appropriate level.
The Otsego County and Cooperstown chambers of commerce have signed on, and will encourage their membership – about 1,000 in all – to participate in the forums. The resulting programs would absorb the current county program, what remains of the county Economic Development Office, recently placed in an expanded Department of Planning, Solid Waste & Economic Development Office.
Hanft was accompanied by IDA President Sandy Mathes and COO Elizabeth Horvath, but also Barbara Ann Heegan, Otsego County president/CEO, who communicated she supported this united initiative. The county board chair, Kathy Clark, R-Otego, had invited the group in. “Our goal is to have this ‘one stop’,” she said.
Hanft said he’d sat down a few evenings before and made a list of the services small businesses might want: Financial planning, quality control, interns from SUNY Oneonta or Hartwick, space (the IDA rented the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta, for like purposes), strategic planning, access to capital, cash-flow, accounting, payroll – the list went on and on. He provided committee members with three pages of ideas.
“The scope of services can be extremely broad,” Hanft said – for instance, a Small Business Resource Center.
County Rep. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta, said the idea is for the county to “crawl, walk, run” into a collaboration with the IDA and chambers. But, he added, “we’re ready to move forward. We need you now. We want a one-stop shop. We want you to answer the phone. We want you to send people where they need to be.”
“We have to start with the needs of the customer,” the small-business owner, agreed county Rep. Rick Hulse, R-Otsego, who has been a key participant in IGA discussions. He also expressed interest in the collaboration, although more cautiously. “We have to tightly define what the county does with the IDA,” he said.
Other committee members attending the session in the county office building were IGA chair Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Edmeston, and county Reps.Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, and Beth Rosenthal, D-Roseboom. County Planning Director Karen Sullivan, who has been assigned economic-development responsibilities for now, also attended.
Attendees at the second “Seward Summit” last November at Foothills emerged with an understanding that a “single point of contact,” as well as “shovel ready sites,” was essential to successful economic recruitment.
With state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, taking the lead, the IDA recruited Mathes, the former Greene County economic developer, and – as Hanft reiterated – committed $3 million of its resources in a three-year drive to increase in-county employment.
So far, Mathes has identified an expansion of Pony Farm Industrial Park, Town of Oneonta, and a prospective 140-acre business-park site outside Richfield Springs for “shovel-ready” efforts.
Also, the IDA re-launched a broad-band initiative, funded and helped organize a community-planning effort now underway in Cooperstown, and submitted a record number of CFAs – comprehensive funding applications required to obtain state ec-dev funding – in a round due to be announced Oct. 15-16.
On the small-business end, the IDA last spring asked the county to contribute an estimated $250,000 it had been spending on its Economic Development Office. The IGA balked, and decide to attempt to continue some of the functions of its former Economic Development Office.
People To Be Surveyed Saturday At Farmers’ Market, Pioneer Park
COOPERSTOWN – The Saratoga Springs consultant hired to develop a downtown revitalization and economic development strategy will be collecting data this Saturday from residents and visitors at The Cooperstown Farmers’ Market and in Pioneer Park.
In an interview in June, Mayor Jeff Katz and IDA President Sandy Mathes outline nine “nodes” in and around Cooperstown’s downtown that are possibilities for development. Mathes said the planning process will also develop the market data he needs to identify what kinds of projects will work and to attract investors to help develop them.
When Bob Hanft was a Hartwick College senior in 1968-69, he met a fetching freshman, his future wife Patricia.
A memorable courtship followed, much of it in Cooperstown: Friday excursions to “The Pit,” the Tunnicliff Inn’s basement hot-spot, sunny weekend trips to Glimmerglass State Park, the spring formal of Tau Kappa Epsilon, Bob’s fraternity, at The Otesaga.
“We loved Upstate New York,” he recalled the other day.
By 2006, when the Hanfts were deciding on retirement, Cooperstown and Otsego County were the natural choice. “I have a foot in Oneonta and a foot in Cooperstown,” said Hanft in an Independence Day interview. “I go back and forth frequently. I have good friends in both.”
In between, there were adventures aplenty.
An economics major and son of a banker, Bob graduated from Hartwick on a Friday and the following Monday he started as a trainee at J.P. Morgan, where he worked for the next 30 years, retiring as managing director/global equity research.
“I did everything” – M&A, lending, private equity. He was one of four senior managing directors who started Morgan’s global equity business in the early 1990s. “It went from zero people to more than 2,000 in 5-6 years.”
One memorable night in 1980, the phone rang. He was directed to go with his bank’s president to Washington, D.C., where they “snuck in the back door” at the Office of the Controller of the Currency, joining a half-dozen of the most powerful bankers in the U.S.
First Pennsylvania Bank was in trouble. “And the controller of the currency said, ‘You’re going to save this bank’.” The result was the first major bailout of a national bank. After that, Hanft, still in his 30s, worked on a number of rescue packages. “Highly confidential,” he said. “You’d read about it four weeks later in the paper.”
As Hanft was moving up the ladder, Morgan’s reputation was “top notch. It was one of the leading financial institutions in the world. One of our biggest problems was vetting people who wanted to do business with us, to protect our reputation,” the executive said.
He traveled a lot, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Latin America. “I spent a lot of time in Europe,” he said, recalling one four-month project in London, working seven days a week.
He and Pat raised a family in Ridgewood, N.J., Rebecca, who recently opened law offices in Cooperstown (she is engaged to Josh Truman, Friend of Bassett executive director); David, in Boston, and Cameron, in Connecticut. Cameron has two 15-month-old twins, Mack and Robbie, and David and his wife recently presented his parents with a new baby boy, Henry.
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.