By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - What do an $82,000 a year job in oil and gas extraction and a $12,000 a year job in accommodation and food services have in common?
Well not a whole lot, actually, in terms of job description.
But both can be found in Chautauqua County, along with 3,000 other jobs reported in the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, developed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The report, which compiles employment and wage data from 2010, breaks down every industry located in the county. That includes construction, health care, government, and - of course - agriculture, among others.
One of the most thriving industries, however, is manufacturing, reporting 9,600 jobs at an average yearly salary of $47,000. The industry is broken down into 12 categories, including food manufacturing, machinery and wood product manufacturing.
"It's a huge deal here," said Bill Daly, county Department of Planning and Economic Development director, of the county's lucrative manufacturing industry.
Daly alluded to Cummins Engines in Lakewood, which has been the marquee of manufacturing in the county since the Columbus, Ind. company set up shop in 1974. Cummins, Daly said, has perfected the art of keeping its assets and material close by, cutting down on costs and travel time.
"They are such a huge part of this county," he said. "They employ hundreds of people that live right here."
County Executive Greg Edwards noted Cummins' approach to streamlining its manufacturing.
"They want to use up 100 percent of their available space producing engines," Edwards said. "They don't want to waste one square foot doing anything other than what is essential to the manufacturing of their engines."
So how does the county help keep these anchor jobs in the area? Daly alluded to payment in lieu of tax agreements, tax exempt financing and an AL Tech loan available for businesses through the county IDA.
The PILOTs, Daly said, allow a business to be exempt from certain state, local and use taxes for the acquisition, construction and equipping of approved projects. The AL Tech loan, meanwhile, allows businesses to grow by offering low-interest loans with a stipulation that job growth occur.
"What we do on a constant basis is work with these people; make the loop around," Daly said. "What we have is a revolving loan fund, which is almost $12 million. We have to re-loan that money constantly."
Tax exemptions and perks for local businesses, however, have been criticized as of late - most notably by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who in June said the county IDA lost millions in risky business investments.
According to DiNapoli, the county IDA in 2000 and 2001 purchased bonds to fund the construction of speculation buildings in the towns of Sheridan and Busti. Auditors found that payments from the businesses in the spec buildings did not cover the required annual IDA debt payments.
The county executive scoffed at the report, noting that since DiNapoli's report was released two new businesses have moved into the Sheridan industrial park. Edwards called the report a "headline grabber."
But county aide to local businesses goes far beyond financial assistance.
"One of the biggest things this county and IDA provides is a database of existing industrial companies," said Mike Metzger, president of Blackstone Fabricating in Jamestown. "We can go into that database and identify possible suppliers and customers."
Metzger noted he is the chairman of the IDA, but said he signs a conflict-of-interest disclosure and abstains from voting when it comes to his business or a competitor's.
Blackstone has been open since 1994, and Metzger said county assistance has allowed his business to facilitate communication between partners and customers.
"The biggest advantage I see is that facilitation of communication," he said.
While the county does its part to sustain and attract new business, a lack of qualified employees can hurt job growth.
"These people can't pass a drug test," Daly said of some applicants. "They are also given basis tests to enter manufacturing, and half of them fail those. There are jobs in Chautauqua County. In fact, they can't keep those jobs filled."
Todd Tranum, president of the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier, said a lack of basic jobs skills is hurting the workforce and employers.
"I don't think we have an unemployment problem," Tranum said. "It's more of an employment problem. We have people that don't have the skills necessary to fulfill the jobs out there."
Many jobs, Tranum said, require basic math, reading and technology skills. Those jobs also require clean drug tests.
An explosion in baby boomers retiring also has compounded the problem. With so many leaving the workforce businesses are struggling to find qualified applicants.
"I think it's critical to have some basic skills," Tranum said. "And don't take drugs. There are a lot of jobs that require skills, and we have the opportunities right here in our backyard."
Those opportunities include Jamestown Community College, which has an extensive manufacturing catalog, and SUNY Fredonia.
Metal not your thing? Chautauqua County also boasts an impressive agriculture and forestry job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the county has 55 units reporting in the agricultural industry, with an annual average wage of $24,000.
"Food processing is very strong in this county, and there are very good paying jobs in food processing," Daly said. "People often don't think so but they are good paying jobs."
On the lower end of the wage scale, meanwhile, is arts, entertainment and recreation - which averages a wage of $13,000 a year. With 631 people employed in the industry, tourism plays a major role in the local economy.
"Tourism is one of those things that brings new business into the area," said Andrew Nixon, executive director for county Visitors Bureau. "You have a diverse economy that is not just based on one sector. Tourism is one of those sectors that attracts new revenue."
Nixon, for example, said a student from outside the county who attends SUNY Fredonia brings in money. Tourism might have played a role in bringing that student to the area, which in turn increases revenue for the university, local restaurants and retailers.
Added Daly, "Now you can argue about how much they pay; it's just not a high-pay industry. And often it's a seasonal industry. ... But you have parts in New York where the only things left are tourism. It's a piece of the puzzle, and it's a significant piece of the puzzle."