COOPERSTOWN – It appears former county rep. Craig Gelbsman of Oneonta will remain on the Otsego Now board of directors.
The county board originally appointed Gelbsman to Otsego Now as its “liaison”, intending that he keep the Cooperstown reps in the loop on what the Oneonta-based economic-development entity was up.
Then Republican Gelbsman was defeated by Democrat Adrienne Martini last Nov. 7. But when his term expired Dec. 31 he continued to sit in on Otsego Now meetings, vote on measures, and last Thursday was elected board secretary.
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.
A three-person team from FARR Technologies of Sioux Falls, S.D., spent three days in Otsego County last week, tightening a schematic for achieving broadband Internet service countywide within five years.
FARR’s mandate is to provide, by mid-October, “information we need to aggressively apply for state and federal funding,” said Sandy Mathes, Otsego County IDA president. He plans to ask the IDA board to approve funding applications when it meets Oct. 2.
The team – FARR CEO Peter Rassmusson, Vice President/Network Design Jerry Weber, and Steve Angerhofer, a partner in the company – arrived Tuesday the 16th and spent Wednesday meeting with county reps, municipal, school and chamber officials, and regular citizens.
“There was nobody saying, ‘Why are you doing this?’ There was unanimous support that you need it and probably needed it 10 years ago,” said Rassmusson, who went into consulting on broadband networks after selling the family telephone business that operated in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
Since winning the IDA contract in August, the FARR team had compiled Federal Communications Commission, GIS and other data to map out a prospective broad-band system, Rassmusson said.
One goal is “running fiber to our Main Streets,” said Mathes, fiber being more dependable and able to transmit larger amounts of data. But points on the FARR map also identified tower sites necessary to provide “last mile” wireless service to rural areas, Rassmusson said.
The Thursday of their visit, Weber and Angerhofer visited the prospective tower sites to ensure no physical objects, distance from roads or other factors would rule out the tower sites.
In July 2013, the county IDA had contracted with Comp Direct USA to provide wireless broadband countywide. This year, realizing that fiber would be required, Comp Direct withdrew and the IDA returned $500,000 to Connect NY, the state entity formed to extend broadband to rural areas.
“We’ve been assured (by Connect NY) that our next application will be well received,” said Mathes. “The overall solution is well in excess of $25-30 million. But with a plan, with a strategy, with credibility, the funding agencies will be aggressive.”
Since providing broadband to rural areas is “a national priority,” he continued, a range of federal and state funding is available. The IDA will be working with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, but “we anticipate working with Schumer and Gibson as well,” he said.
“Funding is obviously a key component,” said Rassmusson, whose contract is for the preliminary work – the map and the strategy; another contractor will build the system and run it. “You need to have the study in place, so that as the funding opportunities present themselves, you’re ready to go.”
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.
Bob Hanft, Pierstown, the retired Wall Street banker, has been elected chairman of the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency board.
Meeting yesterday, the IDA accepted “with regret” the resignation of Sharon Oberitter of Fly Creek, retired founder, with husband Don, of the Cooperstown Bat Co., who had shepherded the IDA through its dramatic transition.
Given a colleague’s legal troubles, county Rep. Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta, is in line for appointment as liaison to the county IDA, the Industrial Development Agency spearheading redevelopment of Pony Farm Industrial Park.
He would replace county Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Edmeston, who District Attorney John Muehl said is under investigation for misuse of campaign funds following a complaint by her former employer, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.
The idea of replacing Schwerd with Gelbsman surfaced at the Friday, June 20, meeting of the county board’s Administration Committee. But its chairman, Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, said no resolution appointing Gelbsman was drafted and he believes board chair Kathy Clark, R-Otego, can simply make the appointment if she wishes.
If the Gelbsman appointment goes forward, it will be the first result of reports earlier this month, confirmed by Muehl, that Schwerd is under investigation. The D.A. said he had referred the matter to the county Sheriff’s Department, but “no arrest has been made” as of Tuesday, June 24.
While IDA liaison serves at the pleasure of the county board chair, Schwerd is also chair of the county board’s Inter-Governmental Affairs Committee, but that appointment may be until the county board’s next reogranizational meeting.
To help Otsego County businesses succeed, all you have to do is ask what they need.
That’s the theory Dawn Rivers, the new office manager and director of the county IDA’s Susquehanna Regional Center for Jobs, is operating under. “It’s going to be important, going forward, to listen to people,” she said. “We will be much more successful in helping our economy thrive if we listen to what people want from their businesses rather than applying a theoretical perspective.”
The Center for Jobs is one of the initiatives now being developed by the IDA’s “single point of contact” economic-development effort, which recently set up shop on the fifth floor of 189 Main.
Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, chair of the county Board of Representatives, said today the county is not ready to participate in the IDA’s “single point of contact” approach to economic development right now, but she intends that it will.
“In no way did I intend it to be interpreted that we don’t want to do a one-stop shop,” said Clark. “I don’t want it to appear that we’re going to be in the ivory tower again – because that didn’t work for us. We can’t have all these silos.”
Still, three issues have slowed the county, Clark said:
Rebuffed By County, Board Focuses On Own Priorities
ONEONTA – The Otsego County IDA has received 20 queries from small businesses with expansion plans, but will now forward them to the county after a key committee has decided not to participate in “single point of contact” economic development.
“We remain open to cooperating,” said Sandy Mathes, the IDA’s CEO, at the end of an action-packed meeting. “But we are happy we can now focus on things that we can do.”
The IDA board today reviewed a letter from count Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Edmeston, who chairs the Inter-govermental Affairs Committee, saying the IGA “is not taking action at this time” on transferring small-business and community-development responsibilities, which the IDA had offered to assume.
County Board Chair Kathy Clark, R-Otego, was at the IDA meeting, and said she was seeing Schwerd’s letter for the first time.
A Friday, May 30, letter from county Rep. Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Edmeston, to the county IDA said her Intergovernmental Affairs Committee “is not taking action at this time” on the IDA offer to take on the county’s Economic Development Office.
COOPERSTOWN – The county Board of Representatives’ committee in charge of economic development has decided not to collaborate with the IDA’s “single point of contact” strategy.
County Rep. Betty Ann Schwerd, R-Edmeston, who chairs the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, told the county board this morning the IGA is interviewing two consultants to take on the tasks formerly performed by the county Economic Development Office.
Schwerd didn’t ask for a motion, and no vote was taken on whether the county board as a whole supports the new approach.