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.
Editor’s Note: James R. Dean, the Cooperstown village trustee, has been proprietor of New York Custom Curved Wood Stair Railings & Handrailings locally since 1973. In last week’s Part I, he analyzed out economic-development challenges we face. This week, Part II offers solutions.
So what is the plan?
Almost everything that has been done so far to increase our population and business base, while very good, has not been enough to reverse our situation and we need to rethink what we need to do and how we need to do it.
As Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig often says, “We need more people.” I fully agree. Nothing changes in Otsego County without more people.
We need more people at the same time that we know we are in an imperfect situation for an ideal promotional effort. Knowing that, we should still move ahead to try to attract more people, businesses and outside money to Otsego County. The needed improvements will follow as our promotional efforts succeed.
Rebuilding Otsego County will not happen without a laser focus on promoting the big picture of “Otsego County New York” to the outside world. “Otsego County New York” are the four most important words that the outside world needs to hear from us. We need to reach out with public and private strategic messaging designed to capture the attention of people and businesses, that previously did not know about life in Otsego County New York.
Counties and businesses up and down the Hudson Valley, and elsewhere, are putting promotional and advertising money, and other resources into attracting new people and businesses to their area, and it is working. People are moving from the Hamptons to Hudson Valley where their money buys so much more.
I do not see that in Otsego County. To see what pride and promotional efforts of an area looks like, go to the Kingston area’s Luminary Media’s Arts and Culture website www.Chronogram.com.
Chronogram also has impressive print edition that is distributed free, in over 750 locations, from Stamford to Brooklyn, on both sides of the Hudson. It serves 51 towns and 9 counties in the Hudson Valley (see distribution). They are capturing customers, in a very organized way, while we are completely off the radar. Luminary media also has a real-estate advertising website http://upstatehouse.luminarymedia.com/, with similar print editions and equal distribution, reaching the same people. We have nothing like that here. How do we compete with that? At the very least we should try to be included in their orbit.
People wanting to buy homes and property in Otsego County is a major component of deep, structural, long-term, local economic development. Zillow.com is a major real-estate advertising website that shows almost every home for sale in Otsego County (search Otsego County NY in Zillow). This is a tool that should be used to showcase Otsego County homes available for purchase. Local realtors already sponsor these Zillow ads and would handle most of the sales.
The Zillow interactive website platform is also an interesting model for a possible new, very visual, map based, all inclusive, fully interactive website, solely for the promotion of living and working in Otsego County New York. This new website could become the information destination for comprehensive and organized promotional efforts.
I suggest “OtsegoCountyNewYork.com” as the name for this possible new website. I have secured this name for possible future use. This new website would have click on/off layers for the major categories of interest in Otsego County like city, towns, villages, healthcare, churches, education, recreation, parks, businesses, shopping, real estate, restaurants, transportation, arts and culture, places to visit, etc. To see a simple Google Map prototype go to https://tinyurl.com/yaw5vm2t. Each similarly formatted layer would have mouse over icons that would identify the location, clickable points of interest that would open up with information, photos, audio, videos and/or “mini tours”. The purpose of this “master website” would be as a “central destination” for many outreach efforts for the “big sell” of all that Otsego County has to offer.
This new website would allow viewers to tour all of Otsego County on their own, at any time, from anywhere. This single focus new website would be fair and equal in providing information about all of Otsego County, from Richfield Springs to Unadilla (supported by volunteers from around the county, grants and donations) and would carry no paid advertising or preferential promotions.
Ideally, it would be developed and managed by a new, neutral entity, independent of any special or competing interests.
Quality of life is one of our major assets. Many people in other places have more money, but they do not have the quality of life, and they do not know where to look to find it. We want to paint our picture, and tailor our messages, to meet that need and welcome them to join us.
First, we sell them a forever home; then they help us build out the future of Otsego County. This applies to retired people, young creatives, entrepreneurs and self-employed people with businesses and families. Creating, and then conveying, a sense of pride of community and common cause will go a long way to helping Otsego County succeed.
I can think of no other publications that so beautifully portray, in pictures and text, so much of what we enjoy, need to convey, about Otsego County New York than “Otsego County – Its Towns and Treasures”, “Cooperstown”, and “Otsego Lake”, all three books published by The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. Also “Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York – 200 Years of Health Care in Rural America” for the rich history of the first-class healthcare that has always been available in Otsego County New York.
Our problem, in my view, is not that people do not want to come here. Our problem, in my view, is that people do not know that we exist.
It is very important, in my view, for Otsego County local governments, businesses, schools, public and private organizations and interested individuals to work together, and to invest, in this common cause.
Rebuilding Otsego County is the collective responsibility of every person, hamlet, village, town and city in our county.
More Gas? Only If Paired With
Equal-Sized Renewable Project
When fracking was proposed in New York State a decade ago, the potential benefits were jobs, economic growth, lower energy prices, and energy security.
Opponents (like me) worried not only about local degradation of the environment but about the global consequences of methane seepage and emissions for the climate as a whole.
In most places outside of New York State, the frackers won the argument, and in fact much of what they claimed has come to pass.
Vast new reserves have been opened up by fracking, perhaps even more than anticipated. The United States has moved from deep energy dependence on often unfriendly foreign sources to a greater degree of energy self-sufficiency.
The US has become a net exporter of natural gas and is now able to leverage its new energy resources in foreign policy negotiations. Fracking has sparked renewed economic activity and a sense of energy security has been restored.
But the cost of these short-terms gains may yet overwhelm us. Professor Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell has a sobering new video on YouTube: “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken.” Check it out; go to youtube.com and type “technological gamble” in the search line.
Ingraffea goes back six years and compares the climate change predictions made by a range of experts then with the latest data now available.
The new evidence shows those predictions to have been wide of the mark in the worst possible way. Global warming is happening much faster than predicted.
Ingraffea puts the blame for accelerating climate change squarely on the fracking revolution. As its critics have worried all along, the overall greenhouse emissions of fracked natural gas turn out to be as bad if not worse than any other fossil fuel.
Fracking has not been the “bridge fuel” the industry advocated. Ingraffea points out that fracking has extended the fossil fuel age, dramatically increased global warming, and, by providing continued low-priced gas and oil, frustrated the development of renewables.
This issue is playing out locally as well. There’s an energy crunch in Oneonta, with NYSEG interrupting gas service to some of their larger customers (SUNY, Fox, and some local businesses) because of limited supply.
In spite of the fracking boom in neighboring Pennsylvania, the infrastructure for delivering more gas in the Oneonta area right now doesn’t exist. The secondary pipeline serving the area isn’t big enough to meet demand.
The same arguments for the benefits of fracked gas used a decade ago are once again in circulation by those calling for more gas: It’ll bring jobs, stability, and economic growth.
Without a functioning economy we have social chaos, it’s true; but without environmental protections we have eco-catastrophe.
Transitioning to renewables remains the unavoidable answer in both cases. Renewables address the climate issue while providing economic relief with
jobs in the new industries we so desperately need. But it’s not happening fast enough.
That’s a political problem – one unfortunately not about to be solved.
The gas proponents now, as before, are focused on short-term benefits and seem oblivious to the bigger threat. Those who appreciate the long-term threat, on the other hand, have no immediate and practical solutions to the energy challenge.
Yes, of course, we must transition to renewables ASAP, but it’s not just a matter of effortlessly dropping one energy source and plugging in another.
There are serious technical problems (limits to electrical applications, intermittent power and inadequate electricity storage) and financial ones (funding the required large-scale infrastructure changes).
It’s time to recognize both the urgency of climate change as well as the need to buy some time to put in place technologies and financing that can transition us to renewables as quickly as possible.
It’s time to recognize both that the unintended consequences of gas may be worse than the problems it solves, and that those suffering from economic insecurity can’t afford to wait around indefinitely for promised but undelivered jobs in renewable energy.
What’s needed is restraint and prudence. Until we get to renewables, we’re clearly going to continue to overheat the planet to keep the economy going and avoid social breakdown.
How much more warming can we stand? It’s not clear, but major new pipelines and gas power plants are climate-denying projects that promise to take us over the edge.
In the meantime, we have growing local economic distress which might be relieved by delivering more gas to Oneonta by enlarging its existing pipeline.
Improving that pipeline and its capacity would clearly boost the local economy; a redone pipeline might also be more efficient.
But any expansion of gas consumption, even a small one like this, can no longer be justified unless correlated with a funded renewable energy project of at least the same scale.
Nothing less is acceptable any more.
Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and moderator of Sustainable Otsego, lives in Fly Creek.
If We Want Solar Energy,
Let’s Get Serious About It
If we care about solar energy, it’s time to get serious about it, don’cha think?
Happily, Otsego 2000 may be doing just that, having taken a leadership role among local environmental groups on this matter. On Feb. 24, its board adopted a resolution that reads, in part:
“Climate change, driven in large party by fossil-fuel use, is a significant threat to our region and way of life.
“We call for and support energy conservation and efficiency to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and the necessity or expanded fossil-fuel infrastructure and delivery systems.
“In addition, we call for and support smart development for renewable energy sources to meet the goals adopted by New York State for greenhouse-gas reductions.”
Caveat (conservation first), then support.
The resolution continues in the same vein. It supports rooftop solar panels. And solar farms, but again with caveats: Put them on “previously disturbed areas,” protect farmland, “protect historic, cultural and scenic resources,” maintain conserved lands. This is fine, and clearly in synch with Otsego 2000’s overarching mission – to protect, not develop.
But if, in fact, we want solar energy around here, a more affirmative strategy is necessary.
The most significant solar project proposed so far in Otsego County – thousands of panels on 50 acres north of Morris – is on hold, according to Chet Feldman, spokesman for Distributed Solar, Washington D.C. As he explained it, a PSC ruling last year on economical proximity to power lines, and federal tariffs made the project “not conducive,” at least for the time being.
Promisingly, Feldman said “We’re always looking forward to doing business in New York.” So it, or another project, may still happen.
So far though, solar power locally is limited to boutique uses: People who can afford it equipping their homes with panels. Otherwise, the Solar City installation near Laurens, by county government for county government, is the only functioning solar farm in the county. (Thank you, county Rep. Jim Powers, R-Butternuts, now retired, for pioneering it.)
If Otsego 2000, Sustainable Otsego, OCCA and other environmentally focused entities – goodness, even the Clark Foundation – really wants solar power widely used here, they need to say so and go after it, without the caveats.
If it chose to be, muscular Otsego 2000 certainly has the clout to get it done.
Meanwhile, Otsego 2000’s executive director, the able Ellen Pope, has taken the new policy seriously, attending a forum March 27 organized by Scenic Hudson, and – she reports – well attended by municipal officials from around the state.
It’s complicated. Large installations – 25 megawatts and up – fall under state Article 10 regulations for siting electric-generating facilities, signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2011. Below that, a good town plan can guide where things happen, or don’t.
Attendees were advised, “plan for the town you want.” Of course, we all know that means: Keep everything the way it is. If we really care about global warming, about renewables, about humankind’s survival, that probably won’t fill the bill.
The Otsego 2000 policy dwells on what needs to be protected. But let’s turn it around. Let’s identify appropriate sites – sure, brownfields (Shur-Katch in Richfield Springs, maybe), former landfills, acreage shielded from public view – those black panels are ugly – and so on.
It might make sense to rule solar farms out, period, in the extra-protected Otsego Lake watershed. It makes sense to extra-protect a national environmental icon. But that leaves plenty of space elsewhere in Otsego County.
The Morris installation, tucked in the beauteous Butternut Creek Valley, would have been an eyesore, and perhaps polluted the creek, too. The county’s Solar City site is in a former gravel pit – ideal.
If Otsego 2000 could identify ideal spots for solar farms – a half dozen, a dozen, even more – and put the regulations in place to enable them, it would be doing our 60,094 neighbors (as of last July 1, and dropping) a favor. When a solar developer shows up, no problemo, with enhanced tax base and jobs to follow.
Plus, an itty bit, we might even help save Planet Earth.