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New Albany remains a work in progress

State Sen. George Borrello talks with constituents during a stop at this month’s Ellington Town Picnic.

SUNSET BAY — Shortly into his first year as county executive in 2018, current state Sen. George Borrello made a game-changing decision. Instead of parroting a familiar political refrain calling for more jobs to come to this region, he did some leg work.

During his first three months in office, he visited more than 100 businesses in 100 days. What he found was quite surprising: there were good positions available at many of these companies located right here.

This was a strange revelation. For decades, this region and county were under an assumption residents had to move elsewhere to find work.

Fast-forward to today and the job crisis is in your face here and across the nation. It is in our classified pages, on billboards and yard signs in front of establishments. Nearly every business is hiring.

“This is not a living wage issue,” he said. “I’m hearing this from businesses that are paying well above average salaries that are union operations with salaries and benefits that cannot hire people.”

At first glance, that appears to be good news for the economy until you consider the high jobless rate here, which is close to 6%.

With positions going unfilled, local establishments suffer.

During a recent visit to American Rock Salt in Livingston County near Geneseo, the most eastern part of Borrello’s 57th district, he heard stories also shared by local employers. Applicants showing up for interviews, being hired then not showing for work. Others who are newly hired leave only hours or days after joining the operation.

“During this pandemic, out of a need for public safety, we pay people more money to stay home than work,” he said. “It has created, in my opinion, a culture now where it’s acceptable to just survive on government assistance. … That has exacerbated the workforce issue.”

Borrello’s comments came in what otherwise was one of the most significant weeks in New York state history. On Tuesday, Western New York’s Kathy Hochul took the reins as governor after Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation that has been tied to sexual harassment allegations.

Albany’s politics can create an atmosphere that resembles a pressure cooker. During the Cuomo years, as with so many strong-willed leaders, you were either with him or against him.

There was never any doubt where Borrello stood. If his news releases were not tied to the area’s issues, they were likely targeting and criticizing the former governor.

With Hochul’s roots upstate, however, there is a renewed hope for more unity and balance. Our senator shares those hopes. “She’s a common-sense individual,” he said. “I hope she chooses collaboration over coercion. I hope that she decides that a good leader is someone who empowers people.”

Borrello said Cuomo hired some excellent department heads, including Richard Ball, commissioner of state Agriculture and Markets and Basil Seggos who oversees the Department of Environmental Conservation. “(Cuomo) never empowered any of those people. He made the big decisions so if she can empower those people … I’m hopeful for her being able to heal the state in the coming year.”

Some other topics Borrello touched on earlier this week impacting the state and region included:

¯ A disturbing rise in COVID cases. “People are certainly very concerned about the resurgence … and how that’s going to affect our economic recovery.”

¯ Rising crime rates. “This is a quality of life issue. New York state has become more dangerous and more expensive. … People are very concerned about the future.” Borrello, however, was upbeat about the Democratic primary win by Eric Adams for New York City mayor. Adams was a former member of the New York Police Department and became one of its most outspoken officers, calling out racism and bias in the department and pushing for major reforms. “That says the people of New York City are concerned about public safety … so that makes me hopeful we can turn this around,” Borrello said.

¯ Declining census numbers. “I’m still very optimistic. If you speak to any real estate agent, they will tell you we are (currently) going through a real-estate boom. … Chautauqua County has five lakes, beautiful scenery and people who care for one another. … This is a great place to live. It’s a great place to raise a family.”

John D’Agostino is editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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