Collaboration, effort drive development

Submitted photo Panel members, from left, include Bill Gugino, Katie Geise, Nate Aldrich, Kevin Kearns, George Borrello and Mark Geise. All were part of a summit presented May 22 by the Local Economic Development group and the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation.

As the Local Economic Development Summit was winding down last month, event organizer Jane Fischer asked a six-member panel of elected and community officials to mention one positive development they would like to see in the region for the coming year.

Bill Gugino, president of Erie Land Development, was hopeful a bike trail would lead from where his Battery Point Villas project would be located — right at the eastern city border — to the heart of downtown along Route 5. Katie Geise of the Chautauqua Workforce Development board is hoping to see more businesses and individuals use her agency’s services.

Nate Aldrich, economic development specialist, wants community stakeholders excited about grant money for specific municipal projects that create momentum. Vice President for Advancement and Engagement and Economic Engagement Kevin Kearns wants more small, start-up businesses to find success.

County Executive George Borrello wants a realization of the Economic Development Alliance and Mark Geise, deputy county executive for Economic Development, wants projects currently under way, including the National Comedy Center, Celoron hotel and Athenex, to be finished. Six people. Six visions, all different, but with the same goal in mind: continuing to move the region forward.

At the “Big Picture: Connecting the Puzzle Pieces for Economic Development” gathering at the State University of New York at Fredonia Science Center, there was an enthusiasm and attitude that slowly and surely Chautauqua County is making progress. Featured speaker Patrick Whalen, who opened the May 22 morning, spoke about collaborations. The panel discussion that followed continued in that line of thinking.

For all intents and purposes, its partnerships that have brought our greatest newfound energy and opportunities. Consider the P-Tech program in Dunkirk as an example. This is the educational community — and the manufacturers — coming together to prepare area students for jobs that exist here.

After only three years, this collaborative has led to a redesigned School 6 in Dunkirk that offers courses and areas of instruction in mechanical technology, welding or computer automated design, better known as CAD. Earlier this spring, at least 90 students were in the program. That number is bound to keep growing.

Besides the collaboration factor, there needs to be tangible results that change the mindset of residents so that they can point to progress. What would this corner hope to see in the next year? Here are some places to start:

¯ Dunkirk not looking so dumpy. The city has a building and zoning enforcement official who seems to let many a property owner — especially in the heart of downtown — get away with maintaining an eyesore. That needs to change. Council and the mayor need to start pressuring this office. We have a major development in the works in Athenex. We must have a cleaner, polished image.

¯ A true Dunkirk-Fredonia partnership. Central Connections is a small start, but it really does not prove an effort by the two largest north-county entities of working together. The best-case scenario is one police facility for both departments that desperately need major upgrades. Dunkirk-Fredonia Police Headquarters. Yes, that is a big deal.

¯ Continued waterfront promotion. We have a boat race and plenty of concerts at the lake in the city. How about a greater effort on promotion on making this a major fishing destination. A quick Google search for walleye brought up Ohio. We know better. Chautauqua County is where the walleyes are.

¯ Capitalize on the Bay. Sunset Bay was hopping last holiday weekend. Just think of how much more tourism could be had with a hotel near the Routes 5 and 20 strip — as well as additional parking. If traffic flow is a problem, that is a good thing.

¯ A north-south synergy. People here need to quit acting as if Jamestown is another world away. It is a 30-minute drive and a part of who we are. Get excited about the National Comedy Center and its August opening. Our area, as well as most of the western Southern Tier, can only benefit from the tireless efforts of Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center executive director, and Tom Benson, project chair.

Most importantly, believe in the turnaround and what is happening. Belief in this area is why we live here, isn’t it?

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