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With economy on hold, bright spots are around us

Publisher’s notebook

On the city of Dunkirk’s east side, manufacturing remains a significant cog in the region’s economy — even during this never-before seen sudden slowdown that is currently taking place in our nation. Three major processing facilities that contribute more than 1,100 jobs to our region remain in operation: Fieldbrook Foods, Nestle Purina and Refresco.

These local companies, during this unprecedented era, fall under the newly designated “essential business” category. Before this coronavirus pandemic, every business was essential.

Today, as the slowdown moves to week three, some shops have had to close their doors due to the restrictions on a great deal of Americans — and shoppers. It seemed as though the beginning of March had given the north county region plenty of momentum.

Three short weeks ago, the “Small Business Revolution” cast and crew were in Fredonia to celebrate and assist the village’s downtown community. In Dunkirk, Fieldbrook Foods announced in the fall its plans for a major expansion. It also recently received additional welcome news with the opening of the cold storage facility on Roberts Road, which is already being utilized by the ice-cream maker and is pictured on our front cover.

What a difference a year makes when it comes to development.

In January 2019, crews were just beginning work on the 80,000-square-foot warehouse. Many here will remember the site as the former Edgewood eyesore that was a fire call waiting to happen far too often.

That investment has not only changed a neighborhood, it has also become a sign of a brighter future. “After years of blight, this project will result in the cleanup and repurposing of a large brownfield site, resulting in a beautiful, modern new facility that addresses our long-standing shortage of available local cold storage space,” said Mark Geise, county Industrial Development Agency chief executive officer, once the construction began.

Turning around what seems to be five decades of deterioration in region takes plenty of small steps. But planting seeds, such as the freezer facility, does wonders for the area it surrounds. Krog Corp.’s investment on that property has brought additional energy and enthusiasm to the Progress Drive area.

As of this week, Geise said most manufacturers are weathering the storm. “It was actually surprisingly good news,” he said of a conference call earlier with a number of factory leaders. “A lot of them were plugging away and taking different precautions in dealing with the virus.”

What cannot be lost in the recent revitalization effort is a bipartisan spirit. Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas and a Republican county leadership have partnered to make most of this happen.

Still on the horizon is the Athenex plant, which is already hiring here as construction on the site just off Route 5 is nearly complete. How this virus has impacted the international company remains to be seen. Its location in Chongqing, China, was impacted and has recently resumed operations.

In a news release issued earlier this month, the company noted it will “continue to be a global citizen and work closely to support the various global public health authorities and is continuing to monitor the evolving situation.”

America is in the same boat. We’re all waiting, quite suddenly and unexpectedly.

What is a bit reassuring is there are positives taking place. A new Dunkirk — and north county economy — appears to be in the making. It, like everything else in our world, is being delayed.

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

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