New eyes, energy in area development

Area: Boosting lake, cooperation

OBSERVER Photo Nathan Aldrich, left, and Rebecca Yanus, right, were joined by Chuck Cornell of the incubator and Todd Tranum, second from right, from the county chamber.

They were the new kids on the block, though they are not unfamiliar to the area or their profession. Nathan Aldrich and Rebecca Yanus, both with Chautauqua County roots, were seated with four others recently at the Fredonia incubator in Dunkirk to talk development to a group of engaged State University at Buffalo students.

Before their stop for the panel discussion, the students had visited the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, Five and 20 Brewing and Spirits and Timberfish near Westfield. Two others at the table — Teresa Bair, a vice president at Athenex and Virginia Horvath, State University of New York at Fredonia president — are already major forces in helping determine Western New York’s potential prosperous future.

Aldrich and Yanus, however, represent something that has been sorely lacking in this county in recent years: new energy in leadership.

Consider the major knock on Western New York over the last 20 years. Our region has been part of what has been called the “brain drain.” County students grow up, go to school here, get an excellent education and move on to higher learning.

After they graduate from college, they look elsewhere for work because opportunities at home are few to none. Based on the revitalization of Buffalo and the Athenex effect in Dunkirk and along Route 5, that “drain” refrain has been diminishing. There’s a belief the area is turning the corner.

Sure, it is taking more time than we would like. But there is still a reason for optimism.

Aldrich, who serves as Community Economic Development Specialist for the Local Economic Development initiative of Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, has been a driving force for making cooperation happen. Not only was he at the forefront of hosting the trip for the UB students, he also is a UB alumnus.

As part of his pitch to students, Aldrich told the group what he is doing right now is a “dream job” in helping to build an area where he grew up. His territory runs from Hanover to Ripley. Within the past year, he’s made a difference for nearly each municipality he has assisted.

This month, he decided to take on even more in heading up the Chadwick Bay Regional Development Corp. as its executive director. “Obviously, the (north county) water district has been a major lift, a major project, but there are definitely other opportunities for shovel readiness, tourism development, brownfield remediation,” he said at the January meeting. “There are several projects that can be procured and administered on a regional level that will advance all communities.”

As Aldrich takes on more, Yanus’ plate is already quite full. After graduating from UB, she took a job in Albany before agreeing to come back home and leading Dunkirk’s Development Department.

It can be a daunting task. Central Avenue, since the Masonic Temple fire of 2010, often seems deserted while the real gem of the city — its waterfront — seems forgotten. “Lake Erie is right at our back door,” she told the students. “It needs to be enhanced and invested in.”

Dunkirk could be on the cusp of something big. But the city also is at a cross roads. While steps are being taken at the Athenex property off Route 5, an anchor in Brooks Memorial Hospital will be emptying in the coming two years as a new health-care facility is constructed off Route 20 in Pomfret.

As one problem gets solved, another looms. But the strengthening of Dunkirk’s connection to Albany, boosted by Mayor Wilfred Rosas, has Yanus upbeat.

“What I’m most proud of from an economic development standpoint,” she said, referring to the $2.5 million awarded by the state, “is that we’re getting the funds to implement some of these public improvement projects.”

Make no mistake, those public dollars of investment from the state are what has Buffalo booming again. If the Queen City is healthy, that will be a positive impact for our county as well.

For Aldrich and Yanus, who have never known a booming Chautauqua County in their lifetimes, their knowledge, enthusiasm and perspectives are already making a difference on a regional level after one year. Just wait to see the results once they truly become comfortable in their jobs.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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