Looking forward—not backwards—and maybe even being a little opportunistic is the strategy SEEC is bringing with it into 2021.
There’s no doubt that will be a challenge—even the words “economic growth” are hard to say after the yeas that was 2002, SEEC’s Executive Director Julie Pacattte said Friday.
But like Schoharie County itself, the specific goals aren’t crazy or even lofty; think business retention and the Eagle Trail, Ms. Pacatte said—not Amazon—and different ways of measuring that growth “that remember who we are.”
SEEC kicked off 2021 with a Lodging Possibilities forum before pivoting to helping businesses negotiate the challenges of COVID-19, sharing resources and kicking off a $75,000 revolving Resiliency Fund offering grants and loans in May.
All of that will guide SEEC’s efforts in 2021, Ms. Pacatte said, with helping businesses stay in business their number one goal.
SEEC will continue to track the pieces of the latest federal stimulus package—or packages—she said, and local donors have added additional funding to the Resiliency Fund.
“We’re also going to be a little opportunistic in 2021,” Ms. Pacatte said, filing applications for some of the state grants announced in late 2020, including one that, if successful, would be used to develop a business plan for a food supply chain that would bring together farmers and distributors.
Ms. Pacatte said she’ll also be keeping an eye on residents who’ve moved from urban areas into seasonal and even newly-purchased homes fulltime now that they can work from home because of COVID.
“We think there’s a lot of talent there,” she said. “Independent contractors, freelancers, professionals…How can we help them develop a network? How can we take advantage of their skills and knowledge?”
The final piece of SEEC’s 2021 strategy will be continuing its local investments, Ms. Pacatte said, through not only the Resiliency Fund, but its Impact Fund, used to work with businesses like the Sauvage Beverages and Kymar Farm Distillery in Charlotteville, which will be ramping up production and adding new jobs this spring.
While COVID forced SEEC to back-burner 2020”s economic forums, the one on Lodging Possibilities still gave them enough data to move forward with in 2021, Ms. Pacatte said, and the Eagle Trail kicked off in the fall now seem more forward-looking than anyone thought.
“With more people looking to get outdoors and travel just an hour or two away, I see the Eagle Trail as something with so many opportunities,” she said.
“True birders, families, even folks who are interested in falconry…they’re all looking for what we have here.”
Looking back on SEEC’s first two years, Ms. Pacatte said something that struck both its Board of Directors and Advisory Council members is the need to look at different ways of measuring economic success.
Traditionally, she said, that’s been all about job creation and capital investment—and a model that doesn’t always work here.
Economic growth is also about getting people involved in their communities—local businesses, the arts, non-profits—and finding ways to leverage both those local and more regional resources and connections and then tapping into them.
“While we’re doing all of this, it’s important to remember who we are,” she said.
“That’s a rural, outdoor, community with trails and natural beauty and resources and agriculture. That’s where out strength and growth will come from.”