Eco 2019: Businessmen cast wide net for Fairweather followup


By Patsy Nicosia

How did you get started?
What lessons did you learn?
And just as importantly:
What mistakes did you make?
Those are some of the questions Eric Stein, Peter Johnson, and others who’ve taken up the mantle of Schoharie County’s future are asking as they charge into 2019 determined to turn Peter Fairweather’s economic study into a long-term plan of action.
Using demographics and other data and research as a framework, Mr. Fairweather’s “Shaping the Way Forward,” calls for a private-public partnership that could:
• Develop shovel-ready sites.
• Work to attract and retain businesses.
• Lead tourism and marketing efforts.
None of that’s going to happen overnight, said Mr. Stein, CEO of Cobleskill Regional Hospital; to start, the group, which also includes FAM’s Tom Putnam and MidTel’s Jason Becker, has been reaching out to efforts like Schenectady’s MetroPlex, Otsego County, and Utica looking for ideas.
“There are lots of ways to approach this,” Mr. Stein said. “We need to figure out what works best for us. We need to get the right people involved and set some solid goals.”
Some of the best advice they’ve gotten so far?
“Success won’t happen overnight. But if we put in the time, we’ll have a good organization,” Mr. Stein said. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to make this work. It’s put up or shut up time.”
Mr. Johnson, who worked as a senior associate for David Rockefeller for 42 years before retiring in June, said one of their immediate goals is organizing as a 501(C)3.
That step would set them up for donations and public money that they could turn around and use to invest in start-ups or business expansion.
Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Stein said they see the organization as something that could act as a flexible intermediary between business and local government.
Some similar organizations own their own property; some act as property brokers; ideas for the local group include compiling information on shovel-ready sites or helping take down zoning barriers.
“Gathering information is important, but it also has to be more than that,” Mr. Stein said.
“There’s not an absence of interest in what we have here,” Mr. Johnson added. “But there’s an absence of an organization that can assist.”
And key to that, he said, is finding the right person to act as the executive director, a position they hope to fill in 2019.
Shane Nickle, senior planner in the Office for Community Development Services, said his office fields regular requests from businesses and the state, especially when it comes to finding a place for agricultural-related enterprises.
That’s music to Mr. Johnson’s ears; he sees potential in linking local farms with downstate markets—potential Mr. Fairweather also stressed.
“We’re never going to get an Amazon HQ here,” Mr. Johnson said. Nor would it be a good fit.
“Schoharie County’s always been known as the Breadbasket of the Revolution. Maybe it’s time to make it the Breadbasket of the Digital Revolution,” something that could mean jumping right over traditional economic development strategies, to create “a network of lateral businesses.”
Based on inquiries to his office, Mr. Nickle said an online database of available properties—like the one the Village of Cobleskill has—would be valuable; even more so would be a 20-50 acre site with access to a railroad siding.
Lack of adequate water and sewer and housing are also roadblocks his office runs into when businesses come calling and growth needs to be a good fit with what makes the county unique.
“What we do have is quality of life,” Mr. Nickle added. “We have a lot to offer.”