LETTER from BOB HARLEM
To the Editor:
Adrian Kuzminski’s article on “Economic Independence” was very interesting. I’m happy to see that reality is setting in and there is an awareness that “until we begin to make products replacing at least some of those we import we will remain far from economic independence, and true prosperity will continue to elude us.”
An economy based on “Beds, Meds and Eds,” is not sustainable. The “Beds” portion is not only based on discretionary income but is also subject to trends, which can be fleeting. There is the seasonable aspect which produces temporary jobs which are generally lower paying and provide minimal benefits.
The “Meds and Eds” portion of our economy, while creating economic opportunities, has created other issues. The simple fact that these institutions do not pay taxes, many do not use local suppliers or services and often those who work for the “Meds and Eds” don’t even live in the area, puts an unstainable burden on the host community.
One need only to look at the City of Oneonta, where more than half the property is tax exempt resulting in the other 47 percent paying 100 percent of the tax burden for the necessary services such as police and fire, etc. The City of Oneonta has the 13th highest cost for rental housing of all cities in Upstate New York while having one of the lowest per capita incomes.
As was so accurately pointed out, the answer is to create opportunity by building on what we have. The farm community is a good place to start, as the “multiplier” (the number of times a dollar changes hands in the local community) of a farm dollar is one of the highest, between 5-6 times.
In other words, when a farmer receives a milk check for $4,000, it will put between $20,000 and $24,000 in the local community. Farmers spend their money on feed (maybe from Lutz Feed) and vet bills, they buy local supplies and local insurance, use local banks, and the milk is trucked by local haulers who buy many of their services locally.
It should be noted that Lutz Feed not only supplies feed, it also buys the farmers’ corn and processes it for sale. In all these instances, there is a need for reliable energy. Energy is needed to milk the cows, harvest the hay and corn, transport the milk, deliver the feed, and process the feed and corn.
Opportunities also exist in the logging industry. There’s Wightman Lumber, Leatherstocking Timber and F.S. Forestry LLC, which all do some form of logging and, in the case of Wightman’s and Leatherstocking, process, manufacture and export finished products out of this locality. Their process is energy dependent as they need kilns to dry the wood and trucks to move the products. Both these businesses use their by-products to supplement their energy needs but they still require a reliable power source.
It should also be noted that other industries export products and import dollars into our region. Oneonta Block manufactures concrete block, both regular and archictural, which are used throughout Upstate New York and beyond. They are used in schools, hospitals, housing projects, malls, wastewater facilities, etc. Simply put, 95 percent of what Oneonta Block manufactures goes 60 miles or further, while the raw materials used to produce are purchased within a three-county area. These products require a kiln and trucks to move the product, all of which require a reliable energy source.
So to have “Economic Independence” for a sustainable local economy, it is imperative that we stress the need to develop and expand the local production capabilities. For this to occur, there needs to be a reliable and affordable source of energy. Renewable energy such as solar and wind are a part of the solution but unfortunately they are not a 24/7 source of energy.
There are also other issues that limit the use of each. Solar takes up a lot of space and will result in many acres of land becoming virtually useless for such things such as farming and forestry. Wind mills can only be used in areas when there is the proper wind currents and they require large setbacks. Wind doesn’t eliminate the land from use as much as solar.
Two other sources are water and biomass. Hydroelectric power has been in the area for decades at the Goodyear Lake Dam. This could be expanded or a series of smaller dams could be developed, but this would require the DEC to allow for temporarily disturbing the river and the aquatic life, not to mention the potential of “flooding” large areas to store the water to guarantee the flow. The other source of water energy is geothermal. This can be done in situations when a steady source of lower temperature energy is needed.
The last source locally would be biomass. This opportunity was presented to us years ago, but the naysayers shouted it down. Biomass may be one of the best sources, as it would incorporate our local area strengths by allowing our farm community to develop an additional crop, switch grass, which is grown and used to power biomass facilities.
Unfortunately, there are many in this county who are against anything and everything no matter the consequences of their negativity. The biomass plant, the pipeline, the compressor station, the re-development of the rail yards, the baseball parks, housing developments, and the list goes on.
The benefits of these projects would not only have been jobs but also increased school and local tax revenue, lower energy cost, create spin off businesses, better housing options and a brighter future for our children.
The failure to have the pipeline has resulted in the creation of the “virtual pipeline” which is the trucks that are carrying the CNG to the markets where it is needed without providing any additional energy or revenue to the local community.
The end result being during the severe winter days the hospitals and educational community are forced to burn a much dirtier and more expensive fuel in order to sustain their operations.
Once one starts to understand the local situation, one cannot help but realize why it is so difficult for those in the “Meds” and “Eds” field to recruit doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals. This is part of the reason why many commute into the area from Binghamton, Utica and the Capital District rather than call our county home. If these trends continue then “true prosperity will continue to elude us.”
The choice is yours, you can find a way to make things happen by being part of the solution and support the efforts such as the rail yards or be against everything and continue to offer no real solutions.