Editor’s Note: This editorial is reprinted from this week’s editions of Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal, on newsstands now.
The news that state Sen. Jim Seward’s cancer is back – his office issued a press release Wednesday, Nov. 6 – brings two immediate reactions.
One, fingers crossed. Advances in cancer-fighting research can mean five years, 10 years – and more – of active living. Everyone’s got a story of a happy outcome.
Two, reflections immediately come to mind on the ongoing Seward Era of Otsego County politics. It’s been a charmed one, and to reflect on it underscores how his recovery will be good news for all of us.
Just think about this decade, the State Sen. Jim Seward Decade, if you will.
Let’s not be prophets of doom, but we’re all thinking people who can more or less put the pieces of the puzzle together.
In her March 29-30 column, our colleague,
columnist Cathe Ellsworth, alerted us to an
Albany Business Review report that Upstate
New York lost 2 percent of its population
between 2011 and 2015. Seven counties gained population; 20 lost it.
In our general area, Tompkins County – home of Cornell and Ithaca College – surprisingly lost the second most, 5.1 percent or 5,294 people. Our Otsego County was 11th on the list, losing 2.26 percent or 1,408 people.
The next week on our front page came the story, “Utility Retreats From Gas Pipeline Upgrade,” reporting how the utility serving our county, NYSEG, has backed away from upgrading the DeRuyter natural-gas line that runs to Sidney and then Oneonta, even though it received a rate increase to do so a couple of years ago.
In the article, Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky reaffirmed NYSEG can’t provide enough natural gas – or electricity, either – that any new manufacturer of any size would require to move here.
A Chinese company looking to establish a manufacturing plant somewhere in the U.S. came calling a few months ago, Zakrevsky continued. “We had proximity to an Interstate, water, sewer – but we could not meet their energy demands, either electrical or gas,” he said. “…Without that power, we’re limiting our ability to compete.”
The news hook for the story was a meeting state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, hosted at his Albany office in mid-March for local business and community leaders to make a plea to NYSEG’s new president, Carl Taylor.
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.
ONEONTA – Otsego Now has been on the right track, a panel of top state economic-development experts reported the county IDA’s annual meeting at Northern Eagle Beverage this morning.
Jeff Janiszewski, Empire State Development Corp. senior vice president/strategic business development, was asked, in light of plans to redevelop the D&H yards, how common are manufacturers who need rail shipping. Not a lot, he said, but “when it’s required, it’s really required,” and there are few such available development sites in the state.
When county Rep. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, asked about the importance of “shovel ready sites” – such a site is being developed for a distribution center in Oberacker’s district – Janiszewski responded, Otsego County “lost out time after time after time, because you didn’t have locations prepared for development.”
The good news, he said, is that industrial site-selectors are approaching him, looking for spots on Interstate 88, and the Schenevus site – the SEQR review is just beginning – may be a tempting one for selectors seeking “product,” as shovel-ready sites are called in the business.
ONEONTA – The D&H railyards, focus of hopes for economic development in the City of Oneonta, is now in public hands.
A newly created local development corporation, Oneonta Rail Yards (ORY), a subsidiary of Otsego Now, has closed on approximately 80 acres of land surrounding the Norfolk Southern rail yards, which extend from Cliff Street to Ceperley Avenue.
ORY plans to seek shovel-ready status for any and all of the developable land, and will initiate environmental reviews of the property immediately, according to an Otsego Now announcement a couple of minutes ago.
ONEONTA – Brooks BBQ’s bottling business has taken off, and it needs an extra 150,000 square feet of space in the next two years to accommodate the growth, Otsego Now’s board of director was advised this morning.
And Otsego Now has just the place: The shovel-ready site at the former Pony Farm. “You could be in the ground in 30 days,” CEO Sandy Mathes told the directors. He, COO Elizabeth Horvath and a board member, Craig Gelbsman, were asked to sit down with Ryan Brooks as soon as possible to see if an arrangement is possible.
ONEONTA – The Otsego Now board of directors, at its monthly meeting Thursday, approved minutes of its new Reorganization Committee that includes among the committee’s goals: “engage in a search and hire a full-time CEO.”
The 2-5 vote came over the objections of board member Bob Hanft, immediate past chairman. He said including that line in the Reorganization Committee’s 11 “duties and responsibilities” will only serve to slow Otsego Now’s current momentum. “I think it does more harm than good.”
Hanft said the committee had been directed to come up with a plan for the future, and that taking on the mandate of seeking a new CEO should come only after a plan is developed and approved. “I think that’s line should be stricken,” he said.
SCHENEVUS – “Welcome,” an audience member called out when Otsego Now CEO Sandy Mathes finished introducing the concept of a 250- to 600-job distribution center to a community whose commercial base dropped from 57 businesses to a handful in the last half-century.
Even with 90 minutes of sometimes probing questions that followed from the 75 citizens at the AMVETS this evening, the audience broke into applause when the presentation and Q&A came to an end.
“We will be as aggressive as we can to maximize the local benefits,” Mathes pledged at several points.
But he also referred to the uncertainty and strategic nature of what lies ahead for 600-resident Schenevus and the Town of Maryland (total population 1,897) over the next couple of years.
“It’s like making a sports team,” he said. “You’ve got to make the cut.”
Otsego Now today took an option on 175 acres off Interstate 88’s Exit 18 at Schenevus, aiming to bring a 250-300 job distribution center there, perhaps as soon at 2018.
The Otsego Now board of directors unanimously approved the $3,000-per-year option, which will allow the SEQRA process – the state-mandated environmental review – to begin as soon at March 1. The goal is to create a “shovel-ready site with an eye toward attracting Amazon or another mega-retailer planning distribution centers in the Northeast U.S.
ONEONTA – There is no saving the Oneonta Ford building.
“We’ve had people inspect it and structurally, it cannot support the additional two, three floors as part of the Market Street project,” said Sandy Mathes, CEO of Otsego Now.
Mathes was responding in part to a letter sent by Karyl Sage and read by City Clerk Nancy Powell during the public hearing on Common Council’s intent to submit an application for a Restore NY grant with the intent of using the grant to purchase and demolish the building at 27 Market St.
“Demolition is not always the best answer,” Sage’s letter read. “Look at Bresee’s and the Greater Oneonta Historical Society. I ask that you consider rehab of the Oneonta Ford building. It could very well become the center for the Food and Beverage hub.”
COOPERSTOWN – Word on whether Otsego County will win funding for a much-hoped rural broadband project has been put on hold until at least July, Otsego Now CEO Sandy Mathes told Otsego County Board of Representatives this morning.
County Board Chair Kathy Clark, R-Otego, expressed dismay at the news: “Children who can’t access the Internet at home are at a severe disadvantage. re we going to have to wait four more years? That’s an entire class that will graduate from high school without this.”