Fingers Crossed. Forums May Achieve ‘Single Point Of Contact’
Editorial for the edition of Thursday-Friday Oct. 16-17, 2014
Otsego County has never done economic development – and never will, county Treasurer Dan Crowell told the 2014 Otsego Leadership class when it convened last April at the Cooperstown Graduate Program.
Economic development requires risk-taking, Crowell said, and the county Board of Representatives simply has been unwilling to risk taxpayer money. He couldn’t imagine the reps ever will. That’s prudent; they shouldn’t.
So what’s had been called the county Economic Development Office, Crowell continued, was instead a grant-seeking entity, passing through funds mostly to eligible existing businesses.
The “single point of contact” concept that came out of last November’s “Seward Summit” was an exciting alternative to a concept that, per Crowell, could never work. Regrettably, both the county Board of Representatives and Otsego County Chamber declined to follow through.
That’s why a meeting of the minds last Thursday, Oct. 9, was such a relief, and important for achieving a viable economic future for Otsego County: i.e., our neighbors and their families who live off the local economy, not just pensioners from elsewhere.
It broke the deadlock.
Last Thursday, representatives of the county, of the chambers of commerce and of the IDA (the quasi-private county Industrial Development Agency) agreed on a program to, despite a few bumps in the road this year, make “single point of contact” business recruitment a reality.
In the next few weeks – time is of the essence, because the county board is putting together its 2015 budget – the three entities will convene three “forums” for chamber members, mostly small-business owners, who will be led through a structured discussion to determine what help, specifically, they need and want. Stay tuned for particulars, coming soon.
What they need may be advice (on grants or state programs). It may be referrals (to accountants or lawyers, to contractors or suppliers). It may be loans (private or public).
Once what will help small-businesses thrive is specified, the IDA will put together the pieces and make an appropriate proposal to the county’s Intergovermental Affairs Committee (IGA), for vetting before approval by the full county board.
County Reps. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta, and Rick Hulse, R-Otsego, characterized this approach as “crawl, walk, run.” But Gelbsman made the goal plain: “We want a one-stop shop.”
What Gelbsman and Hulse are doing is sensibly backing away from an alternative that was going nowhere and – given Dan Crowell’s formulation – will never go anywhere.
Balking at a $250,000 IDA funding request a few months ago, the IGA committee (not to be confused with the IDA) pulled out of the “single point of contact” concept that came out of the second “Seward Summit” last November at Foothills.
First, it reduced the county Economic Development Office to a part-time receptionist answering the phone in the large, empty former county ec-dev office in Oneonta’s City Hall. Then, a few weeks ago, the IGA committee rechristened the county planning office the Department of Planning, Solid Waste & (oh, yes, by the way) Economic Development.
That wasn’t going anywhere.
If ye know these things, happy are ye who do them. That’s not us talking, that’s The Good Book (John 13:17), divinely inspired.
Dick Sheehy, one of the nation’s foremost business recruiters, told the last “Seward Summit” two things are necessary for successful economic development: One, “shovel ready sites.” Two, a “single point of contact” – if a company comes calling, it knows THE number to call.
The IDA embraced the Sheehy prescription. It hired Sandy Mathes, the former Greene County economic developer, one of the state’s best. It committed $3 million of its own money – private funds, from fees, not taxes. It identified two prospective sites for shovel-ready status (in Oneonta and Richfield Springs).
The piece that proved elusive was the “single point of contact.” Now, with the chambers and the county IGA Committee aboard, it looks like that’s going to happen, too.
Unity makes sense: Out of the single office and shared resources at 189 Main, the traditional IDA handles projects of $1 million and up; the county component does small-business loans and programs, and community development; and the chambers, tapping their members, provide guidance and support.
We’ve learned what to do. We know what to do. We’re more than half-way there. Now we’re going to do it.
Much credit for the positive turn of events is due to Gelbsman and Hulse, for coming around. To IDA chair Bob Hanft, who was supremely convincing at last week’s meeting. To state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, for continuing to nudge things in the right direction. To Barbara Ann Heegan, Otsego Chamber president, for bringing her 500 members to the table. (IDA COO Elizabeth Horvath said the Cooperstown Chamber is participating, too.)
To a lot of other people – you know who you are, and thank you – who, in a county that has less jobs today than a quarter century ago, are keeping the torch of hope alive.