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Growth depends on many partners

How often do you hear people grumble that their community isn’t moving in the right direction? Claiming that things were so much better in the past? How often do any of them do something about it, other than to whine in letters to the editor or to gripe about it on social media?

One group of concerned citizens in the northern end of Chautauqua County did more than complain. They made a difference. A big difference.

Almost 10 years ago, a small group of local residents began talking about all the businesses they had seen closing their doors in the northern end of Chautauqua County; the number of jobs and highly skilled workers moving away; and how little new growth they had seen in the area in recent years. They were very concerned about what that meant for the quality of life in their community. While many other folks were wasting time placing blame on things like urban renewal in the 1970s, inaction by local governments, failures to lure new businesses to the area and how few funds were being secured for new projects, this group decided to do something about the situation.

They organized. They were determined, and willing, to put in the time and effort necessary to make a real difference. They named their new group the Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative. They soon realized their LED group needed a home, so they approached the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF) in 2011, realizing their goal of impacting the economy through advocacy fit well with NCCF’s mission.

They knew that to build a strong local economy, before they could act, they had to understand the historic, current and projected socioeconomic and industry trends affecting the area. They also needed a deep understanding of the economic strengths, weaknesses and market factors driving economic development here, so they wisely did the necessary preliminary work. They brought in experts. They worked together to develop a strategic plan. They agreed upon a shared mission and vision.

Although they started with only four private business leaders, because they had a good solid plan, the LED group soon grew to 15 private-sector members and developed a supporting structure of subcommittees, clusters, advisers, and stakeholders totaling over 75 local leaders including government officials, non-profit leaders, and a strong partnership with Fredonia State University of New York.

The LED quickly became a grassroots all-volunteer workforce for the greater good.

It soon became apparent that many local municipalities in the area didn’t have the bandwidth needed to attract the investments, or to secure funding, for needed community improvements. These are the things that make local areas more attractive to new businesses, workers and supporting institutions. So the LED worked hard to secure funds to hire a Community Economic Development Specialist to assist these communities. Within a few years he helped numerous local communities bring in millions of dollars in funding to complete projects improving the waterfront, main streets and making large infrastructure improvements companies need to start or grow their operations.

People throughout the county started noticing all the positive progress being made by the NCCF LED. This influenced the formation of a new countywide initiative last year, called the Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Growth. This initiative is focused on economic development, community development, workforce development, housing, and quality of life issues. It is bringing economic development resources throughout the county together to achieve even greater impacts to benefit all of us.

Future LED columns will discuss all the economic growth the LED helped bring to northern end of Chautauqua County in the past, how the group accomplished so much in such a short period of time and what the future holds, including how the group is approaching the current economic challenges caused by COVID-19.

Patty Hammond is Economic Development Coordinator for the Local Economic Development organization of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation.

The Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative recently reformed as a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF). Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at phammond@nccfoundation.org

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