Take a drive west on Interstate 90. Right before the Ripley tolls, you will see a sign that is a monument to the failing economy of Chautauqua County.
Motorists coming into - and out - of New York state see the for sale sign that offers 44 acres of land, located near the New York state Thruway. At one time - in 2004 - there was great enthusiasm a major distribution center would be arriving. Despite a "major announcement" by the county then, it never materialized.
And for the past nine years, the sign says it all. The land remains on the market.
Obviously, its proximity to the state border makes it a tough sell.
Any developer even considering the land must have the thought come across his mind: Locate in New York, which has one of the highest local and state tax burdens, according to the Tax Foundation; or Pennsylvania, which is only minutes away and is not as hostile to industry.
In the private-sector world, taxes matter - a lot. It sets the tone for the business climate, though most county residents may have a tough time understanding that.
Residents here have a history of approving school budgets that raise taxes annually. They voice approval for not merging school districts, which would decrease taxes and improve efficiencies. And they have a love for their overbearing, little governments. If Forestville - despite all its questionable activities over the last seven years and 112 percent tax increase this year - remains standing, that does not exactly sound like we're rolling out the welcome mat for potential or current residents.
Despite these concerns, we remain hopeful that development and private investment happens. The issue has become even more urgent with the announcement in March that Carriage House will be closing early next year, costing the area 425 jobs.
That's a dicey proposition when you consider the closing of Petri's along with layoffs from the health-care institutions have already cost the north county area some 500 jobs since January 2013.
County Executive Vince Horrigan has come aboard during a time that many see as a crisis. Last week, he named Kevin Sanvidge to lead the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency.
Sanvidge has a history of success at Cliffstar that began with a vision that made the company in Dunkirk a national power in the juice industry. His leadership brings a new era, one that could not come at a better time.
In the north county, development is reeling. Dunkirk seems to have no vision for its future. Hanover, which was to meet with a developer of a hotel project on Thursday, was more concerned about the town's image than having a multi-million dollar hotel built. Fredonia worries more about raising water and sewer rates than catering to business.
Why are we losing jobs? Poor local decisions over recent decades - by leadership and voters who all pinned hopes on a brighter future despite decisions that drove away residents and industry.
Today we are paying a steep price for that lack of foresight. Sanvidge knows his work is cut out for him.
"I will be getting out into the community and making personal contacts with as many potential new businesses as I can," Sanvidge said in a recent article. "The border is not going to stop for me in Chautauqua County. It could be all across the U.S. and I'll be out there selling everything Chautauqua County has to offer."
Residents here, however, need to help get the county's house in order. Our tax problem is serious. Our makeup of 18 school districts is laughable. Our local governments seem inept.
If we want new jobs and opportunities, we need to change with the times.
A population decline has occurred for the last 40 years here. Yet many have sat back and blamed others for the problems and overspending we allow to happen in this region.
Sanvidge actually helped grow a company in this tough environment into a national power. Just think of what he might be able to do at the IDA if county residents and leaders did what was in the best interest of the larger community, not just a single village, town, city or school district.
John D'Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to email@example.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.