Knowledge Workers? Great, But
Traditional Industries Needed, Too
As I began to read an article in last week’s edition, I felt a surge of excitement.
The author, an elected official, had just stated that her constituents elected her twice because they understand that protecting our environment and growing our economy are not mutually exclusive policies.
That is close to a statement in my recent book, “A Journey Toward Environmental Stewardship.”
My excitement, however, soon switched from positive to anger. Aside from the statement that methane leaks erase all the environmental benefit from switching fuel to natural gas (I found it intriguing the author admits there are benefits), the author goes on the say this is a scientific fact – according to what scientifically refereed journal?
Let’s take a harder look at that claim. If methane leaks erased all the environmental benefit from burning natural gas, then the amount leaked would have to equal the amount burned. That would cut the company’s profit in half. Do you really think a company, any company, would knowingly allow that to happen?
For policy matters of this magnitude, we can’t afford to rely upon the opinion of an advocate who opposes natural gas.
As I read further, I began to feel sympathy for the author and even more so for the people whom she had just called “redundant.” According to her and her reference to a Boston consulting group, the future of our economy is tied to “knowledge-based industry.”
According to her, heavy industry and manufacturing were indeed historically vital to our economy, but we no longer need them. Low-skilled jobs are becoming redundant – in other words, if you don’t have a college degree you’re no longer needed. Wow – and she got elected twice.
Let’s take a look at the facts. When Oneonta’s economy was strong, it benefited from the presence of heavy industry and manufacturing. Companies trained their employees so they would become “knowledge based” and able to perform their jobs.
Many of the companies had apprentice programs to train workers to become more skilled and they were able to advance and make a higher wage – they were “knowledge based” without the buzzword. That’s what built Oneonta.
The notion that we have to move entirely away from that model is nuts. We stand to benefit far more from an approach that nurtures what we had while embracing new types of companies – those that don’t actually build anything. (We sent those companies with their middle-class jobs to Mexico and other countries with poorly thought-out trade policies).
Off the top of my head, I was able to create the following list of companies that can be described as heavy industry/manufacturing: Lutz Feed, Focus Ventures, Brewery Ommegang, The Plains LLC, Northern Eagle, Custom Electronics, Corning, Astrocom, Ioxus, Amphenol, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Brooks Bottling, Wightman Lumber, MAMCO, Covidian, Munson Building Supply, Cobleskill Stone, Oneonta Block Co., DOMO, Otsego Auto Crushers, Seward Sand & Gravel, Clark Companies, RJ Millworks, Eastman Associates, Butts Concrete, Unalam, Leatherstocking, P&R Truss, Medical Coaches and Otsego Ready Mix.
The list is not claimed to be complete and I apologize if your company isn’t listed. However, those companies employ about 2,500 people who don’t consider themselves to be redundant, feel very much “needed” and contribute to our economy. They also vote. Hopefully, Otsego Now will be successful in getting other companies looking for “knowledge-based”
employees to come here. We need them all.
Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in Davenport.
Can Human Ingenuity Save Us
From Perils Of Our Successes?
It’s a widespread article of faith that “economic growth” is essential to future prosperity. That’s hardly surprising, since the modern world has been brought into being in less than 200 years by an unprecedented wave of economic growth.
If we go back 200 years – to 1818 – we see there were no automobiles, no airplanes, no railroads, no antibiotics, no anesthesia, no electricity, no central heating, no telecommunications, no refrigerators or appliances, no computers, no internet, no a lot of things.
Life was, comparatively speaking, nasty, brutal, and short.
In 1818 there were about a billion people on the planet. The overwhelming majority were farmers, peasants and artisans, with a thin veneer of landlords, officials, merchants, professionals and entrepreneurs.
Energy came through physical effort, or from water and wind power. Most consumer goods were made on the homestead or in the nearest town. People lived sustainably, whether they liked it or not, dependent as they were on renewable resources and the rhythm of the seasons.
Fossil fuels changed all that. They made explosive economic growth possible. Coal and oil and gas turned out to be much more potent sources of energy than muscle, water or wind.
The energy density of fossil fuels is orders of magnitude greater than muscle power. Try pushing your car when the engine doesn’t work! Further, fossil-fuel-based fertilizers dramatically expanded agriculture and helped support much larger populations.
Fossil fuels also made possible the chief instruments of the industrial revolution – large-scale machines, beginning with railway locomotives and steamships and the steel mills to build them, and on to tractors, bulldozers, motor vehicles, paved roads, power plants, the electric grid, airplanes, appliances and the whole range of modern products and infrastructure.
A famous study, called “Limits to Growth,” published in the 1972 by a team of MIT researchers led by Dennis Meadows, focused on the global resource consumption required for the production of goods and services.
It projected that the depletion of natural resources and the finite capacity of the planet to absorb emissions and other pollutants would force society by the 21st century to divert more and more capital to make up the difference, eventually bringing economic growth as we’ve known it to a halt.
A 30th anniversary edition of the work, in 2002, found its projections confirmed. Since then, the challenges of resource depletion and environmental degradation have only intensified. Economic growth has become increasingly expensive and uncertain.
The steep decline in energy return on energy invested is a good example of the limits to growth, and that’s true of many other resources as well, from fisheries to arable land to clean water.
Around World War II, the return of investment in an oil well was on the order of about 100 to one. It cost about a dollar’s worth of energy to extract $100 worth of energy. That’s $99 of more or less free energy. Today that ratio is down to about 15 to 1, and declining.
Another measure of economic limitation is what economists call the externalities of production, where the costs are born not by the producing enterprise, but by the public or the environment. Industrial pollution – such as General Electric’s release of PCBs polluting the Hudson river – is a classic economic externality. The widespread use of pesticides, which has seriously reduced amphibian, insect, and bird populations, is another of many examples.
Similarly, the climate costs of greenhouse gas emissions – storm damage, wildfires, flooding, loss of property values, stress on agriculture, and the rest – are not priced into the energy economy, but are disproportionately borne by the individuals who suffer them.
The only growth that seems to escape these limits is mental rather than physical – growth of the imagination, of the digital technology of cyberspace, of the production and exchange of ideas, images, and stories and the values they represent.
Many believe that this human ingenuity will also find a way to deal with the undesirable consequences of traditional economic growth. Maybe. So far that remains a hope, not a fact. In the meantime, the obstacles to conventional economic growth continue to increase.
Many ecologists say that we need a sustainable, steady-state economy, not an economy predicated on a belief in endless economic growth. A steady-state economy presumably would wax and wane with the cycles of renewable resources upon which we ultimately have to depend. How that might work, we have yet to figure out.
In that event, we would not have to go back to 1818. Since we have the advantage of all the knowledge and technology accumulated since then, we can hope for efficiencies that would give us more energy than we could find back then.
If the limits to growth are as real as they seem to be, we may have little choice but to relearn how to live within the ecological budget of our physical home, of our planet.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and moderator of Sustainable Otsego, lives in Fly Creek.
This week’s Tom Morgan column on the facing page, and former DEC Commissioner Mike Zagata’s column last week capture the Upstate dilemma: Upstate is rebounding more slowly than any other area of the country.
First, let’s look at local bright spots.
• Custom Electronics in Oneonta is planning a futuristic 250-job production line making self-recharging batteries.
Andela Products, the Richfield Springs glass recycler, is likewise looking to expand. And Corning’s Oneonta plant is investing $11 million to ensure 150 jobs for the next 15 years.
• As or more important, as Spectrum dithers, Hartwick-based Otsego Electric Cooperative keeps expanding its broad-band ambitions, as the county Board of Representatives was told last month. The PT boat may outmaneuver the aircraft carrier.
• Even today, as the Otsego Chamber of Commerce and Senator Seward’s Workforce Summit was told last week, the challenge isn’t so much new jobs as finding people to fill existing jobs. RNs, code writers and CDL drivers can start tomorrow.
• What’s more, Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta, Bassett and Fox Hospital, plus thriving Springbrook provide a solid economic base.
• To top it off, county Treasurer Allen Ruffles reports the county’s tax rate, thanks to vibrant tourism, is the lowest among the state’s 67 counties. It’s been low – but THE lowest!
All this is good. What’s lacking is a future: new and better kinds of jobs and salaries to keep our young people here and bring in new ones, and
a vision to get us there.
At that Workforce Summit – 80 people packed The Otesaga’s Fenimore Room Wednesday, Oct. 31 – the indefatigable Alan Cleinman, the Oneonta-based consultant to the national optometry sector, provided that vision:
“The future is knowledge-based industry” Cleinman declared. “The future is not industry.”
Knowledge workers: “software engineers, physicians, pharmacists, architects, engineers, scientists, design thinkers, public accountants, lawyers, and academics, and any other white-collar workers whose line of work requires the one to ‘think for a living,’” is how Wikepedia defines it.
In constant national travels, Cleinman has visited such boomtowns as Boise, Idaho, and Bozeman, Mont. – places truly in the middle of nowhere that embraced “knowledge-based industry” and are thriving.
He estimated Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta have 75,000 living graduates and create 1,500 new ones a year, many of whom would no doubt love to relive positive college experiences here and, while at it, make a living.
Cleinman’s idea is to collaborate with the colleges on a marketing campaign to bring some of these people back – a one-percent return is 750 professionals. And to raise
a $1 million venture-capital fund to help them do so.
Senator Seward immediately pledged to form a task force to pursue the “Come Home to Otsego County” campaign, plus a “Stay Home” campaign. Contacted later, Hartwick President Margaret Drugovich also expressed support.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen the deepening of a county rift that could stop any forward movement short: economic developers versus no-gas, no-way, no-how adherents.
Otsego 2000, the formidable and well-funded Cooperstown-based environmental group, has laid the groundwork to sue Otsego Now’s economic developers and the City of Oneonta if plans for a gas-compression station goes forward.
A “knowledge economy” requires some energy – a million-square-foot office building would require 5,800 gallons of propane a day to heat, Otsego Now’s Jody Zakrevsky estimated – but considerably less than manufacturing.
No-gas, no-how may not be feasible. But a “knowledge economy” may allow a balanced energy strategy that is palatable all around.
Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham herself expressed considerable interest in Cleinman’s idea.
If it and other environmental groups could move from always “no” to occasionally “yes,” that would be good all around.
In short, Cleinman’s right on.
Bozeman, Boise and other knowledge economies got where they are by embracing four qualities: ingenuity, educational resources, money and
quality of life, he said.
“We have them all in Otsego County,” the proud native son from Gilbertsville declared. “What better place to live than in this amazing county?”
What better place indeed? Fingers crossed. Let’s see where it goes.
THEATER – 7:30 p.m. Performance of “Our Country’s Good” about a group of convicts sent to Australia inspired to perform a play in spite of supply shortages, more. Goodrich Theater, Fine Arts Building, SUNY Oneonta. Visit oneonta.campuslabs.com/engage/event/2876027
FALCON PRESENTATION – 6 p.m. “The Falcon Experience” presented by Matt Perry, president of Utica Peregrine Falcon Project, on first ever successful Peregrine nest in Utica, Oneida County. Learn about lives of these urban falcons, how they bounced back from near extinction, more. Free, open to public. Arkell Museum, Cooperstown. 518-673-2314 or visit www.arkellmuseum.org/events-calendar
Natural-Gas Issue Is A Ruse;
Real Intention Is No Growth
Apparently something happened to The Professor during her youth to cause her to come
forward during the confirmation process for The Supreme Court Justice, but we’ll never know for sure exactly what happened, nor will we know
who was responsible.
That wasn’t the intended outcome of the public spectacle we’ve been subjected
to. The intended outcome
was to delay the confirmation process until after the mid-term elections.
Thus well-intentioned people like us who were supportive of either The Judge or The Professor were used. We believed we were doing the right thing in seeking the truth, but we were being manipulated to actually support a different agenda – delay.
I bring that up because the raging debate over energy has the potential to repeat that scenario and use our concern for the environment to push a no-growth agenda.
We are concerned about the quality of our environment and thus want our energy sources to be environmentally friendly. However, when I read two quotes, one from a Board member and the other from a local environmental activist, stating that heavy industry has no place in our community and that, instead of trying to attract companies to our area by being able to provide the energy they would need, companies should go elsewhere where that energy already exists, I feel “used.”
Do you understand the
significance of that mentality? It means that if those against development can prevent us from getting gas they can prevent us from having jobs.
My suspicion was realized. Are those who oppose economic growth in our area using the “environment” as a ruse to get us to support their real agenda without our knowing it?
In one of the many recent articles, mostly by the same people, opposing
natural gas, pipelines, trucking and decompression, and everything in
between, the author states that it’s
OK to burn fuel oil on those days (about 30 per year) when our hospital, college and some industry are curtailed because there isn’t enough gas to go around.
Fuel oil does not burn as cleanly as natural gas so, if your real concern is protecting the environment, how could you possibly state that it’s OK to burn fuel oil for 30 days instead of natural gas?
Your real agenda – no growth for our area – is starting to show through!
Oneonta is a welcoming community, but we’re not open to being told how we can lead our lives, what kind of jobs we can have or that our children have no future here.
We need more – there is already some – heavy industry as that was what historically supported the middle class and it’s the middle class that pays the bulk of the taxes.
About half of our potentially taxable property is off the tax rolls. Thus we’re paying about double what we should be for the services we receive.
Our school enrollment is about half what it was when we had a stronger economy and the jobs that came with it. Other schools in our immediate area are suffering the same drops in enrollment and will face consolidation if that doesn’t stop.
People are leaving New York in droves and it’s not due to the weather. Each time someone leaves, the taxes of those of us who remain must, by definition, go up in order to pay for the same level of services.
The folks opposed to everything, the vocal minority, don’t offer viable alternatives to using natural gas as a bridge to the time when renewable energy sources are economically and physically viable. They sprinkle fairy dust into the air and hope we breathe it.
Industry – that evil entity that we don’t want to come here – is working to develop the ability to store energy captured by solar panels. However, that’s still a ways into the future and, even if it was available today, it would not be able to meet our energy needs after the week of rainy, cloudy weather we just experienced.
In addition to not being predicable, solar energy has its own environmental issues. Do the people who oppose natural gas pipelines prefer to look out their window and view 450 acres of solar panels instead? The answer is a resounding “no”. They can afford to install a solar system out of sight that services their needs and don’t much care if the rest of us suffer from extreme heat or cold because we don’t have enough gas to meet our needs.
As I’ve said before, it’s time for the real majority to get involved, take back control of our lives and get out and vote.
Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki AdministratION and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.
Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing
‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.
Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.
Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.
Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!
WOODSMEN’S FESTIVAL – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Festival celebrates way people use, work with wood. Features lumberjack events, woodworking demonstrations, horse-drawn wagon rides, local vendors, mill tours, food, music, crafts, science exhibits, more. Cost, $9/adult. Hanford Mills, 51 Co. Hwy. 12, East Meredith. 607-278-5744 or visit www.hanfordmills.org
FALL ART SHOW – 1 – 3 p.m. Fall show features works by Leatherstocking Brush & Pallete Club, local artists. Includes bake sale to benefit Springfield Historical Society. Gym, Springfield Community Center, 29A, Springfield Center. 607-264-3375 or visit springfieldhistoricalsocietyny.org
GET KIDS OUT – 10 – 11:30 a.m. Bring kids out for Columbus day, explore world of trees. Kids explore property, learn tree identification, understand trees roles in world, have fun. Mohican Farm, 7207 St. Hwy. 80, Cooperstown. 607-547-4488 or visit occainfo.org/calendar/get-the-kids-out-trees/
GARDEN CLUB – 7 p.m. Presentation by Dr. Robinson, curator of The Jewell and Arline Moss Settle Herbarium containing specimens from the North East spanning 1898-2015. Learn about history, function of teaching herbariums, their importance to past, future of plants. Club also offering free bags of daffodil bulbs. Includes refreshments, free, open to public. St. James Episcopal Church, 305 Main St., Oneonta. E-mail Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org