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More than 450 manufacturers make up the backbone of today’s Southern Tier economy. Nearly one in five members of the regional workforce – one and a half times the average for New York State – are directly involved in industry, with nearly 10,000 in Chautauqua County alone.
Keeping these businesses strong and attracting new industry to the area are clearly key to fueling this vital engine of commerce, trade and especially local family incomes.
“So, how do we do that?” becomes today’s most challenging question for elected officials and community leaders.
“Follow the money” is a popular way to find the power and influence to get a job done. Chautauqua County is now ranked as the second most powerful out of 18 industrial development districts across the State of New York with $2.8 billion in industrial projects currently under way, according to Kevin Sandvidge, Administrative Director/ CEO for the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA).
Many people also say, “It takes money to make money.” Sandvidge is more specific. He says, “It’s called ‘Investing in the future.’ Let’s be ready for new businesses that want to invest in Chautauqua County.”
County’s Strongest Assets – People and Places
“It’s the workers,” Rex McCray, co-owner of Jamestown’s 110-year-old Weber-Knapp engineering corporation recently told the Jamestown Gazette. “Chautauqua County is a great environment for business because of its great employees and their strong work ethic. I would match my workers against any in the nation,” McCray said. “Our business is up 51 percent in just the last five years. That proves my point.”
The challenge of attracting new businesses to Chautauqua County also requires “shovel ready” building sites. Vacant land – a commodity in which Chautauqua County is rich – weather in woodlots, or pastures or vacant city blocks, is not enough to draw a prospective manufacturer, according to Sandvidge. A smart site must have clean water and waste disposal services already in place, along with electrical supply, good roads, possibly rail service and a good employee pool nearby. “These assets are expensive to develop,” Sandvidge added, “but we are making the investment in our future.”
“We have the four corners of the county shovel-ready,” Sandvidge said, with well-developed sites in the IDA Park in Falconer, Ripley – a gateway to New York, along with sites in Dunkirk and Silver Creek.” Re-purposing old buildings and sites is often harder and more expensive than new development, according to Sandvidge. “New industries are hard to serve with old infrastructure.”
Keeping the Old
“It is as important to retain existing industries as to attract new ones,” Sandvidge said. “Whether you are planning to expand or planning to move, call us first at the IDA and see what we can do.”
“It was their help,” McCray said, “that made it possible for us to buy Weber-Knapp from the UK conglomerate that owned it. Local support like that for industrial development is strong, from the industries themselves and local governments.
Jamestown alone is home to more than 4,200 businesses and services, according to regularly updated online listing services, demonstrating strong local community and government support for “renaissance” initiatives to build and restore the regional economy.
Developing more shovel-ready sites in more places across the county, and especially more aggressive marketing of them across and beyond New York State, are among the high-priority projects promised by Chautauqua County Executive candidate Mike Ferguson. “We need more than a handful of these sites,” Ferguson said, “and we need them soon.” New industries should also be held accountable for new job creation to qualify for ongoing tax breaks, according to Ferguson.
Creating an inviting financial setting for new businesses and the current industrial base are top priorities for Chautauqua County Executive candidate and current County Legislator, George Borrello. He cites the county budget he helped pass last week that continues to lower the local tax burden, down by approximately $3/1000 in current dollar value over recent years. “I want our businesses to pay less in taxes than on their mortgage. Reducing the expensive and useless extra layers of local government will also create a more industry-friendly economy,” he added.
Cost of Doing Business
Chautauqua County offers new and existing businesses a unique financial advantage found nowhere else in New York State, according to Sandvidge. For the last 40 years, Chautauqua County has offered manufacturers access to the Al Tech Property Loan Fund, a $13 million fixed interest loan, pegged at only 75 percent of the Prime Rate and tax exempt, for up to $1 million.
These loans are offered for purchase or renovation of owner-occupied commercial real estate. Many local companies have taken advantage of this program which also offers the unusual ability to use it for working capital and fixed assets. Many local companies have taken advantage of this program, such as Jamestown’s Rand Machine Products and SKF Aeroengine in Falconer which paid off a 20-year, $1 million Al-Tech loan this year, 15 years early.
To help create shovel ready sites, the CCIDA has spearheaded a program which will rebate 20 percent of the cost of brownfield remediation from the State of New York to an industry willing to do the cleanup. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “A ‘brownfield site’ means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Such a cleanup was targeted recently for an old steel plant site in Chautauqua’s North County district.
On the Move
Chautauqua County has mounted a strong economic development program with a focus on retaining legacy industries and attracting new manufacturing by creating a business friendly environment in county and local governments and in the financial incentives and advantages, which the county appears uniquely poised to offer.
Factors which enhance these initiatives may be key issues which voters will consider in the upcoming, countywide elections.