Debate continues on jobs, economy
Editor’s Note: This is the second of four articles on a debate recently held by The Post-Journal. Candidates were given a series of four questions on pressing issues facing Chautauqua County one week ahead of time, and were given the opportunity to provide their answers in a closed, debate-style setting. The second question deals with jobs and the economy and how the candidates would define economic development success at the end of their first term and what steps would be necessary to achieve that goal.
Two of the biggest issues in Chautauqua County are jobs and the economy, which go hand-in-hand. The Post-Journal asked each candidate for county executive what economic development looks like to them and how they would get there.
GEORGE BORRELLO – “What Gets Measured Gets Done”
Borrello said a popular quote he enjoys states, “What gets measured gets done,” which has been attributed to everyone from Lord Kelvin to Tom Peters.
“I’m a big believer in that if we’re watching the numbers, we’re going to focus on that,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’d measure my success like anyone else (on) ‘What are the numbers going to be?'”
Currently, the county government is doing that, Borrello said. He said the government is looking at economic indicators within the county such as the employment rate, the tax base and the unemployment rate, even though it is somewhat of a misnomer.
“We want to know who is actually working,” Borrello said. “Those are the numbers that we’re going to have to measure to see if our economic development plan is having true success.”
To be successful at the end of his first four years as county executive, would be to have some of the plans he’s already proposed in motion or coming to fruition, such as “The Best Of Western New York Gateway Center” he proposed for Ripley. The center would provide both jobs and economic impact, but would also be a “worthwhile destination” at the entrance of the state. He also mentioned his “Chautauqua Ready” program calls for more shovel-ready sites, but also marketing those sites. Likewise, improving the sites that the county already has is a part of the plan.
Borrello said the area needs more market-rate housing, and he would like to see more, especially in Jamestown.
“There’s some amazing, good things going on here in Jamestown, but there needs to be more,” he said. “There needs to be more of a focus on the Chadakoin river waterfront.”
Borrello said, ultimately, he would measure his success on whether his administration had reversed the cycle of job and population loss, and created new businesses or expanded businesses in the manufacturing and distribution, tourism and hospitality and agriculture sectors.
MIKE FERGUSON – “We Need To Keep Them Here”
“There’s one way to lower taxes,” Ferguson said. “There’s one way to bring new jobs, and that is to go out and get those jobs. By the end of my first term, I want to see a net increase in jobs.”
The improvements will come through several initiatives, including supporting the current employers, like coffee roasters, restaurants, gift shops and those who have already invested in Chautauqua County. Ferguson said the people could’ve opened their businesses anywhere, but they chose to open them here.
“They invested in downtown Jamestown and in downtown Dunkirk and Forestville and Sherman and others,” he said. “We need to keep them here and we need to bring new residents in.”
As he’s gone door-to-door during his campaign, Ferguson said he has been encouraged by seeing the 30 to 40-year-old residents who have moved back to the area, but would like to see more jobs for younger people. He said it is important to work closely with the colleges in the area to design curriculums that will build skill sets for tomorrow’s jobs so young people will stay in the area. Ferguson said he has five children, and four of them have moved outside of New York state because at the time, they didn’t see the opportunity here.
Currently, opportunity is growing here, Ferguson said.
“We’re seeing that with the revitalization of downtown Jamestown, we see that with more people moving back into Western New York,” he said. “We need to get a piece of that.”
Ferguson said job training is an important piece of that improvement. He said he is a supporter of the Chautauqua Education Coalition due to the fact that it develops strategies for job training. In another area, Ferguson said the county needs to address the drug crisis in order to have a solid workforce.
“Locking them up isn’t the answer,” Ferguson said.
However, healing the community, putting money into mental health and putting money into rehabilitation is where Ferguson said he would find solutions. He said his plans for Brooks Memorial Hospital would be to take doctors on Central Avenue and put them in the medical corridor there, but also to take the upper floors for a locked-down, long-term residential rehab program.
“This serves the desires of Mayor Rosas for a methadone clinic, and it brings back some of the services the county lost from the fire on Central Avenue which we desperately need,” Ferguson said. “This isn’t Western New York where it’s easy to get from point A to point B. We have two cities that are very rural from one another and it’s difficult to get from point A to point B.”
He said the attitude that people “will never come here” will change with his administration, he said. Ferguson said looking at being an organic food hub and taking advantage of the highways and thruways that run through Chautauqua County is pertinent. The Amazon Distribution center that just opened in Lancaster, or something similar, could be made possible in Chautauqua County, he said.
Also, Ferguson said it is important to come together as a county, instead of further embracing the “north county” and “south county” barrier.
“It’s time to reinvest back into the community and back into jobs and job training,” he said. “I realize that golf tournaments are nice, I realize they bring people into the community, but they don’t bring long-term jobs. They’re great for headlines, and this is coming from a guy who’s background is in sports and events. I hope it stays here forever, but not at the cost of monies that could be used to develop jobs in Chautauqua County.”
Ferguson also called for a more transparent IDA.
BORRELLO RESPONDS – “We Need To Provide That Leadership Here.”
Borrello said economic success will take leadership, and discussed a proposed Economic Development Alliance, which would involve the county taking a leadership role in bringing together all the economic groups in the area, including public, private and nonprofits that would meet on a regular basis.
“We would all have the same set of goals,” Borrello said. “We’re not all singing from the same sheet of music, and this is something I’ve said several times. We need to provide that leadership here.”
Borrello said the cold storage site in Dunkirk was almost lost to Pennsylvania, but after involvement of the county, a Brownfield site was found for the opportunity. He said the mayor of Dunkirk was doing well with what he had to work with, but it ultimately took the help of the county to get the job done.
“If this had been a cooperative effort in the beginning where we didn’t have all our little groups trying to compete with one another, and not having a true focused plan, this probably would have never have happened and it never would have been in jeopardy,” Borrello said. “It would’ve opened sooner. This is not a criticism, because at the end of the day, I understand the mayor wants to have kind of his own feathers in his cap, but we are one small community, really. We’re the size of some large towns around this state.”
Borrello said there needs to be less layers of government and more of a united front, which the county will help with if he becomes county executive.
“I believe if there was a plan, we wouldn’t be waiting for the Brownfield credits,” Ferguson said. “I don’t consider Edgewood ‘a shovel-ready site,’ nor any of the sites that were identified. I’ve heard over the course of the past 10 years we have 27 shovel-ready sites, 10, five … when you’re looking at GSI maps that have not been updated in this county since 1968 to 1975, we are not ready for business.”
If the shovel-ready sites aren’t ready for a person to put a shovel into the ground, they are not ready for business, Ferguson said. He said fingers can be pointed at the city, the county or the state, but the fact remains it shouldn’t have taken a year-and-a-half to find the brownfield site.
“There were plenty of other sites and the IDA tried to take them out to Sheridan before they realized that that piece of land wasn’t big enough for the project,” Ferguson said. “We’ve been negotiating with this man for a year, and he took out an editorial. When an investor comes to our town with money in their hand and ready to break ground, and then are putting editorials in our paper saying that ‘We’re not ready,’ how much more do we need to hear before we are truly ready to do business?”
If high-speed, fiber optics Internet isn’t available at these sites, then the sites aren’t ready for 2017 or the future.
“Which is where we should be,” Ferguson said. “Which is one of the reasons why Amazon looked at communities like Lancaster that have true shovel ready sites as opposed to looking at us here in Chautauqua County right now.”