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Date: 01.30.2012
By: Jake Palmateer
Staff Writer | Oneonta Daily Star

Organizers look to boost area economy

An aggressive strategy on economic development is overdue in Otsego County and the Oneonta area, according to organizers of two separate efforts.

City resident Albert Colone, an organizer of the Greater Oneonta Economic Development Council, said a meeting Wednesday will focus on "big ideas" and "low hanging fruit." That meeting for area business leaders is at 4 p.m. in the Hampton Inn conference room.

State Sen. James L. Seward, R-Milford, is planning an economic development "summit" for March 8. The location and time have yet to be announced.

Both men said Sunday the county has not fared as well as it should under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Program and said strategy sessions like theirs could help position the county and the Oneonta area to move forward.

"I almost think we've been the forgotten county," Colone said.

Colone said that by several economic measures, including median family income, the county consistently ranks among the bottom in New York.

But the county's two colleges, its tourism industry and two hospitals have been a buffer in the latest economic downturn, he said. "I think those three sectors keep a sense of security here," Colone said.

The annual average monthly unemployment rate for the Otsego County crept up from 4.6 percent in 2007 to 5.7 percent in 2008. But for the last three years it has been steady at 7.7 percent, according to the state Department of Labor. The state's annual average monthly unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in 2007; 5.3 percent in 2008; 8.4 percent in 2009; 8.6 percent in 2010; and 8 percent last year, according the Department of Labor

Colone said economic development collaborations that began in the 1970s bore such fruit as the Pony Farm Industrial Complex and National Soccer Hall of Fame campus in the town of Oneonta. Colone said he hopes his group, which meets periodically, can partner with other entities such as Otsego County Development Corp., county IDA and the Otsego County Chamber to replicate that success.

"It can be done," Colone said.

Seward said county needs to aggressively market itself and have economic development strategies in order to obtain its fair share of funding under the Cuomo program, which is slated to distribute another round of funding this year.

"Maybe we've taken economic development too much for granted. I wouldn't say anybody has dropped the ball, but there may not have been as clear a focus as needed," Seward said. "Obviously, government does not nor should not be creating the jobs. What I hope to accomplish here is putting both public sector officials and business owners from the private sector to develop a strategy going forward.

Both men said such meetings and summits need to have the business community at the table.

"The ideas have to come forward first," Colone said.

Seward, who noted he will be working with Colone's group, said his summit will address structuring economic development efforts in Otsego County, identifying sites for development, identifying projects for which to seek state grant funding and encouraging entrepreneurship