RICHFIELD SPRINGS – Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky met with six Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta college professors in his boardroom last night to talk about the development of an “eco-commercial park” in Oneonta’s D&H Railyards, he told a gathering of businesspeople here this morning.
“We all want to see something happen there. We want to do it right,” Zakrevsky reported in a follow-up interview. “It’s the last piece of developable land in the city.”
The Otsego Now executive let the news drop on the latest stop on his countywide “Town Hall” tour to explain what IDAs do. Today’s audience was Richfield Springs Chamber of Commerce members; the session was co-sponsored with the Otsego County Chamber in the Richfield Springs Community Coop on Main Street.
By JIM KEVLIN • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – When Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky arrived a year ago, he was told not to bring natural gas to Cooperstown, he said to a Cooperstown audience Monday, April 9, in one of several “Town Hall” meetings he’s convening around the county.
Asked afterward who told him, he said the leadership of Otsego 2000, board President Nicole Dillingham and Executive Director Ellen Pope. “They advised me there would be strong opposition,” said Zakrevsky. “At the time, I took their advice.”
Dillingham disagreed, “We had a cordial meeting to discuss our work, and his work. We never told him what he could do. That’s absurd.”
Otsego Now is the county’s Industrial Development Agency; Otsego 2000 is the Cooperstown-based environmental group.
There are two options to serving Cooperstown with natural gas, Zakrevsky said in an interview the morning after the “Town Hall” – running a line from Oneonta’s NYSEG system; or the preferred option, running a line down Route 28 from Richfield Springs’ Tennessee line, which has a greater gas supply.
ONEONTA – At his first “Town Hall,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky last evening asked a Shineman Chapel full of Hartwick College student for ideas, including what might keep them here after graduation, and they told him:
How about turning the Oneonta area into a beacon for renewable energy, asked Will May, a freshman from Pittsburgh. Referring to the Green New Deal, he said, “We should be proving it is possible.”
WEST ONEONTA – In the first convening of the 38-member Otsego County Energy Taskforce Town Hall Wednesday evening, County Board Rep. Meg Kennedy, a founder of the group, announced its end goal: an ambitious plan “that will address the current and future energy needs of Otsego County” by October 2020.
Calling the plan’s timeline “ambitious,” Kennedy said the Taskforce aimed to complete a draft of the plan by June 2020, have a public commentary period the following month, for a minimum of 30 days, and go through a SEQRA review of the plan that August, all before the Otsego Board would vote on adopting the plan in October of that year.
Ahead of opening his Oneonta office on Thursday, Feb. 7, Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, met with members of Otsego County’s small business community at Hartwick College’s Shineman Chapel this afternoon. “I’m best equipped as your advocate when I have spoken to you” he told, seated from left, Michelle Catan, Small Business Development Center director; Jill Morgan-Meek, owner, Transitions Boutique; Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky, and developer Ed May. The discussion was hosted by the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, and earlier that afternoon, Delgado spoke with the Leatherstocking Young Farmers. At right, Jason Tabor, Principal Financial Group of Cooperstown and President, Friends of Bassett, engages Delgado on his thoughts about solving the county’s housing crisis. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
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!
COOPERSTOWN – The county Board of Representatives heard a message this morning: Prepared to be sued.
First, Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham appeared at the county board’s monthly meeting with a letter, prepared by Attorney Doug Zamelis of Springfield Center, demanding it withdraw a grant application for a gas decompression plant in the Town of Oneonta.
It’s a great idea.
In a column at the end of August, Adrian Kuzminski – citing the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap, completed in March – wrote,
“Let me suggest … that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.”
He concluded, “Get key people in the room and tackle the problem.”
County Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C, Hartwick/Milford, invited Irene Weiser, a member of the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force, to attended the Sept. 18 meeting of the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. That task force’s mission is to encourage economic growth while working to reduce gas usage.
NYSEG, which also serves southern Otsego County, had proposed an $18 million gas pipeline into the Town of Lansing, an Ithaca suburb. The task force has been working with NYSEG, trying to find an alternative to the pipeline; it issued an RFP (request for proposals), but received no proposals. It is not revising the RFP and plans to try again.
That may mean, as Irene Weiser reported, that the RFP was poorly drawn. Or it may mean there’s no ready alternative to natural gas right now, at least a full alternative.
One IGA member, county Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, drew the latter lesson. “I struggle with the short term and the long term of it,” he said. “… We need to figure out some short-term solutions while we’re building for an energy-smart future.”
On these editorial pages over the past two months, a number of knowledgeable writers have submitted well-argued letters and op-eds on the gas vs. renewables debate, spurred by Otsego Now’s CGA application to install a natural-gas decompression station in the former Pony Farm Commerce Park at Route 205 and I-88. Kuzminski is in the no-gas camp, joined by Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham. When it appeared to some that the OCCA seemed to be open to hearing more about the decompression station, Executive Director Leslie Orzetti responded emphatically: The Otsego County Conservation Association does not support gas expansion.
On the other side, Kuzminski’s fellow columnist, Mike Zagata, argued fossil fuels are necessary right now. Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky said, without natural gas, the Oneonta area has actually missed going after 500 jobs this year alone. Dick Downey of Otego, who led the Unatego Landowners Association in support of the Constitution Pipeline, likewise falls into this camp.
Dave Rowley of West Oneonta, the sensible retired Edmeston Central superintendent, who served as interim superintendent in Oneonta before Joe Yelich’s hiring, probably caught it best in last week’s op-ed: Everyone wants renewable energy, but it’s simply not sufficiently available. For now, natural gas is necessary.
This is a long way of saying, everybody’s right. In the face of global warming – yes, not everybody “believes” it’s happening; but why reject the preponderant scientific consensus? – clean energy is a necessity.
California is on the forefront, with its Senate Bill 100 aiming at 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. (New York State is aiming for 50 percent by 2030.) Greenhouse-gas emission is a separate category.)
Further, Otsego County’s population (60,000) is 0.02 percent of the nation’s (320 million), one 200th of 1 percent. Even if local energy needs were fully served, it is a negligible piece of a huge national – even international – challenge.
We all want to be part of the solution, but the solution is not going to be reached between Roseboom and Unadilla. It will be developed at the state and national levels, and when there’s an answer, we can support it and embrace it.
Meanwhile, the county’s population is dropping. Some 16.3 percent of our remaining neighbors (slightly more than 9,000) live below the property line ($24,600 for a family of four). That poverty rate is 14 percent higher than the national (14 points).
Plus, there are millions of state dollars – some $15 million so far – targeted for the City of Oneonta’s revitalization.
Now’s not the time to ensure our unmet energy needs – for homes, institutions, businesses and industry – remain unmet for a generation and a half.
Yes, the county Board of Representatives should name an energy task force; Adrian Kuzminski is right. But it should have two goals.
• First, to come up with ways to meet today’s energy needs now; perhaps CNG – compressed natural gas – is part of it (though not XNG trucks on roads that can’t handle them). But so are renewables, like the second solar farm being built in Laurens.
• Second, to fast-track renewables – solar, winds, heats pumps, the whole gamut – to put ourselves on the cutting edge of the future.
For her part, Kennedy is commited to pursue the task-force idea. In an interview, she said it must be made up of “people who want to reduce demand; and people who know the demands.
At base, though, true believers need not apply, only open minds, or the cause is lost.
To end where we began, with Kuzminski: “We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.”
So let’s do the job.
WEST ONEONTA – According to Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky, Oneonta is running out of gas.
“There is no more gas,” said Zakrevsky, summarizing the gravity of the situation.
Oneonta has struggled with its gas supplies for several years, but now the situation is dire. Zakrevsky’s proposed solution: a compressed natural gas decompression station in the Oneonta Commerce Park, the renamed Pony Farm.
Otsego Now submitted a state Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) July 27, hoping to help finance the estimated $17 million project.
ONEONTA – Jody Zakrevsky, the former executive director of the Amsterdam IDA, has joined Otsego Now as the full-time CEO.
Zakrevsky, who joined the Amsterdam IDA in 2011, oversaw the development of The Edson Street Industrial Park, which includes tenants such as Losurdo Foods, Washburns Ice Cream/Refrigerated Lines, Mohawk Signs, Town & County Bridge and Rail, Bush Carpentry & Millwork and Northeast Riggers.