Region’s future depends on reliable delivery

We are fortunate that we live adjacent to one of the five Great Lakes which provide the United States and Canada access to over 25 percent of the fresh water in the world! Yes, that is the world!

So the establishment of the North Chautauqua County Water District is an action that should have taken place decades ago. But with an abundance of water that would support the largest economic sector, agriculture, there was no urgency to find, use, or strengthen the water supply. The largest community in the north county, Dunkirk, was obtaining its water from Lake Erie, but the rest of the county was dependent on reservoirs, wells, lakes, rivers, streams, and creeks.

With the decline of the heavy manufacturing sector, which was largely comprised of steel, automotive parts and components, and other related products and services, there was growth in the food processing sector with ConAgra (Red Wing), Cott (Cliffstar), Nestle-Purina and Fieldbrook Foods leading the way. Prior to the acquisition, Cliffstar became the world’s largest manufacturer, bottler, and distributor of generic “house brand” beverages. The demand for water in Dunkirk in 2014 was 2.4 mgd (million gallons per day) from the citizens and manufacturers.

The manufacturing and services businesses provided $24.5 million in wages with an additional $14.5 million in wages from the food processing sector.

The food processors are large consumers of our water resources. They also presented a significant growth opportunity. A significant reason for their location here is that even today nearly 70 percent of the population of the United States resides within a 500-mile radius or circle drawn around Dunkirk-Fredonia. With the railroad services available and trucking options available, shipping of finished to retail establishments or warehouses is easily accomplished. When you add the beauty of our area, the available workforce in food processing, higher education options, and quality of life to the equation, this becomes an attractive location for food processing.

BUT, and I capitalize BUT because of the first sentence in this paragraph, “food processors are large consumers of water resources.” We could have been an option for a number of food processors who inquired about locating here, and ultimately located in Western New York; but we did not have a large enough supply of reliable water; nor was there a back-up plan for larger than expected demand periods or in the event of outages from distribution providers or water treatment plants. Those food processors created nearly 4,000 jobs in those other locations.

The same would have occurred with Athenex, but by then we had the North Chautauqua County Water District in place and in process of being constructed/implemented.

Which brings me to the current disturbance over water supply expansion in Westfield. The reason for the expansion is to provide reliable water to the businesses and residents along Route 20 from the Portage Road interchange to businesses like Westfield Nursery, Farmer’s Daughter Ice Cream, 5 & 20 Spirits and Brewing (Mazza Vineyards), Johnson Estate Vineyards, and Noble Vineyards, as well as the very important attraction: The Grape Discovery Center.

A reliable water supply to these businesses and others that may choose to locate along Route 20 in Westfield is not a luxury, but a vital need. How can anyone disagree with the potential benefits and jobs that can be created by the growth of these businesses and attractions or the economic development attraction of a sustainable business partnership like the 5 & 20 Spirits and TimberFish Technologies fish farm? The process of growing and feeding fish uses the waste from the grape crops to feed the fish and creates a holistic system that is seemingly 100 percent closed, i.e., no waste. This partnership could attract other similar businesses, such as those with sustainable business models, to our area. This not only would create jobs, but provide stimuli to our agriculture sector.

So, why then would some citizens oppose providing fresh water for these initiatives. Fear of water rate increases? Fear of competition from a neighboring business? Lack of understanding of niche marketing opportunities? Or perhaps, all of the above?

One objection I heard was to prevent sprawl, which is specious since there are businesses along that entire stretch of Route 20 including numerous vineyards. But I might point out that there is a business looking for a location in the Westfield-Ripley area to locate an Aquaponics farm to raise fish and vegetables, using similar processes to the 5 & 20 Spirits-TimberFish fish farm collaborative. This farm would also have a residential community for young adults with autism who could work on the farm, learn life skills and work alongside community members who would also be hired to work there. This doesn’t happen without a reliable water supply along the Route 20 Westfield-Ripley corridor that would reach their location which has yet to be determined.

What those who oppose this for water rate concerns is that the village and town has a responsibility to provide reliable water for the long-term, not just the next 10 years, and there are these opportunities which are very community and environmentally friendly. In the long run, water rates will decline if our farms and businesses prosper with or without growth. Reliable water will make that possible!

And, while some may argue that they have had no problems with their wells, that can be affected by the current climate change roller coaster which could create changing conditions here as well. Again, there is a responsibility to provide reliable water for all, not just those who feel they don’t need it.

Since I arrived in this county nine years ago, I have taken every opportunity to speak out about the lack of cooperation amongst the various businesses and business sectors. The opportunity to cross promote through marketing joint ventures is almost boundless here because we have so many different sectors of business, recreation and tourism that are very successful. We have fishing tournaments, golf tournaments, bike races, snowmobiling, recreational fishing, hunting, trapping, horseback riding, golfing, wineries, fruit and vegetable picking, boating, hiking, ATV trails, and the numerous museums and attractions. We have activities like auctions, antiquing, farmers markets, fairs, benefits, cruise-ins, concerts, plays, movies, comedy shows, games, competitions, and many more. All of these activities can be cross promoted and especially when we have market niches of like businesses and activities. The perfect example is the Lake Erie Wine Trail which also has the Grape Discovery Center as a partner. They hold tours, promote discounts amongst the various wineries, have joint events, a discount brochure, etc.

Not only can like businesses cross promote as a group, they can also cross promote when there is a niche in a community. For example, in Westfield along Route 20 we have 3 wineries: Mazza Vineyards (5 & 20 Spirits), Johnson Estates, and Noble Vineyards with a 2 mile stretch with the Grape Discovery Center which promotes all the various wineries along the Lake Erie Wine Trail. So, you might say that those wineries compete against each other. They do, but if they also cross promote each other and jointly sponsor events together, they can increase their niche even more. In marketing, this is called a “market cluster.” A “market cluster” is a number of similar businesses that attract similar customers. With 4 related businesses/attractions, there is a “market cluster” in Westfield. Imagine that the wineries cross promote by offering a discount coupon at the competition for a type of wine not sold by the other or perhaps an award winning wine that other vineyard has. Then, visitors to one winery would be encouraged to visit the other winery and both benefit because the customers buy more wine in the area and the wineries can become a preferred destination. Now, if you add a discount coupon to eat at a local restaurant, then you expand the cross promotion to another sector or niche area, i.e., fine dining or fast food. In each case, there is encouragement to visit more venues and spend more money. The initial point of contact may be Johnson’s winery or Noble Winery, but they visit the others and with the coupons are likely to spend more. Also, once they spend more time at the wineries, they are likely to visit a restaurant for a meal. If they really like it, they may decide to spend the night in the area. Again, this encourages tourism and creates a buzz for Westfield as a destination for travel!

The “market cluster” concept can apply to cross promotion events as well. For example, imagine that each of the wineries in Westfield partners with a local restaurant and the chef prepares a meal using local ingredients and pairs each course of a three or five course meal with a wine from a Westfield vineyard. This could be done with one vineyard and one restaurant or all three vineyards with different restaurants. The restaurants could also have musicians play music during the meal. This could be done on a quarterly basis, for example. An event(s) is created by creating a cross promotion cluster. Again, Westfield in this case becomes a destination!

The illustrations above apply to any local community and the cross promotion concept can include any logical pairing of businesses and attractions.

These examples of cross-promotion marketing are meant to counteract the fear of competition by a vineyard, a restaurant or an attraction. Competition is healthy and cooperation is even better! But the punch line to this article is that without a reliable water supply we risk the quality of our lives, the success of our businesses, and the ability to and attract new residents to replace those who have left for warmer climates.

Dr. Russell P. Boisjoly is professor of finance and strategy at the State University of New York at Fredonia.