County IDA’s work changing the narrative

OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce A new freezer facility, built with IDA assistance, is nearly complete in the town of Dunkirk.

Almost four years ago, Chautauqua County began a transformation of sorts when it came to how elected officials viewed development. It began shortly after the election of George Borrello, a longtime successful businessman, as executive.

Under his short tenure — he became state senator in the fall of 2019 — Borrello demanded an urgency to boost the economy while not overlooking the resources available. Additionally, there was an important shifting of the narrative. It was about being confident and believing in what our area had to offer.

Steadily, and assuredly, there is a growing reason for optimism.

One of Borrello’s biggest imprints during his stint of county leadership came with the appointment of Mark Geise as deputy county executive for economic development and president and chief executive officer of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency. Formerly a county planner, Geise is relishing the chance to help improve companies already here and those considering Western New York.

Within the last year alone under his leadership, the agency has been involved in assisting businesses with the American Rescue Plan Act funds as well as an additional 50 projects for companies that include loans, grants and incentives.

“This has been an epic year,” Geise said in a recent recap of 2021. “Through all of the diversity posed by the pandemic, the CCIDA team was able to knock it out of the park. This was due to the unwavering dedication of an extremely capable staff, board, and community volunteer team making up our Loan Transaction Committee, and so many others. We will continue to be aggressive and intentional as we continue to advance the ball in terms of economic development, as well as the creation and retention of jobs.”

Last week, both The Post-Journal and OBSERVER highlighted a number of IDA initiatives in our business sections. It is an impressive list that aims to change the current landscape of this region.

Projects in progress include: incentives for the $13 million Love’s Travel Stop and Country Store in Ripley; the $18 million Webb’s Chautauqua Resort in Mayville; the $41 million Americold Freezer in Dunkirk; the $1.4 million Hideaway Bay Resort in Silver Creek; the $11.6 million redevelopment of the former Welch’s Headquarter Building in Westfield; the securitization of loan and grant funding for Jamestown Container Corp. and Jamestown Advanced Products in the amount of $4.6 million; the sale of CCIDA-owned land to develop a new YMCA facility in Jamestown; and several small (less than 5 MW) solar projects.

So successful has the IDA been within the last four years it has almost single-handedly changed residents’ mindset regarding economic activity. In 2015, the major rallying cry was we need jobs. Today, with local business expansions and improvements, there is a different and more pressing matter: the need for more workers.

It may be possible the county is on an upswing after hitting rock bottom in 2014. Around that time significant job losses were seen in manufacturing when the ConAgra plants closed in Dunkirk and Fredonia impacting nearly 550 jobs. NRG soon shuttered its Dunkirk plant and hundreds of other positions in health care were sliced due to hospital and nursing home downsizings.

One other thing is certain at this time: there is a new era of accountability for the IDA, which already has its eyes on a number of projects for the coming year. These include vacant sites at the Furniture Mart Building in Jamestown, the White Inn in Fredonia, the former Silver Creek school, and the large formerly ConAgra-owned building in Dunkirk.

Not on this list could be additional improvements to Dunkirk’s Wells Ice Cream facility, which recently went through an $87 million renovation and upgrade. Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas gave a hint of bigger things to come in his State of the City address.

“My understanding is that there will be another announcement, coming soon, this year, that the expansion project is going to be even bigger than they initially announced,” Rosas said. “We expect there to be double the amount of jobs that were projected. If you recall, they projected 100 jobs to be coming. This announcement was made about a year and a half ago, and now they’re projecting many more jobs (to come).”

That leads to one more dilemma the IDA must tackle – working to reverse the decades-long population drain. “We (CCIDA and Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Growth) just hired a full time marketing and communications director, and we are working with the chamber, the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, the Workforce Investment Board, and other stakeholders to develop a marketing strategy to tell our story,” Geise said. “Chautauqua County is a great place to not only live and visit, but to conduct business. We all need to have a unified message.”

So far, so good.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.


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