By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY A report recently provided to the Sullivan County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) paints a stark picture of the county’s future, while offering suggestions on how the EDC should respond to that future.
Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, led by Rock Hill resident Jonathan Drapkin, prepared the report, technically called a “white paper,” at a cost of $7,500.
“It will be utilized to help us to set up sub-committees on specific target subjects so that we remain focused and accountable with a work product grounded on deliverables,” EDC Executive Director Luiz Aragon explained. “It will also be used as the starting point for a more fully developed Economic Development Strategic Plan.”
EDC members have their work cut out for them.
While Sullivan County’s population rose in the past decade, it’s expected to remain flat for the next 30 years, according to the report.
The amount of 65+ residents will increase by as much as 60 percent in that time, but the younger population will decline proportionally.
“The growing elderly population will not only impact the county and local government infrastructure attempting to provide services,” says the report, “but it will also take an enormous toll on local community-based organizations, especially as resources to care for these individuals decline.”
Poverty continues to affect one of out of every five county residents, the report relates, with housing a primary concern.
The living wage hourly rate (to afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in the county) stands at $17.29, or $35,960 a year beyond what many residents earn.
“Those in economic development and job attraction must recognize the integration of wages into the housing equation,” says the report. “For instance, new, higher-technology warehouse and distribution jobs pay more and can add another shift to households that can help them with their mortgage, when by itself a line job may not be enough to meet the necessary income thresholds.”
Sullivan County is also ranked nearly last out of the state’s 62 counties in terms of a healthy population, even earning a CBS News profile on such in September.
“The county government’s fiscal predicament,” concludes the report, “is partially driven by the confluence of negative quality-of-life factors forcing resources to be allocated in a way that helps those most in need but away from fixing the economy.”
The report also faults “a recurring theme of creating plans and strategies” to better the county “but not assigning or managing the deliverables of what was described in a specific plan.”
“Without direct project management of the activities,” it states, “project advancement is slow and inefficient. This method is self-destructive to the agencies internal to the county and also indicates a lack of consistency and trust to external resources, developers and investors.”
The report predicts that the county’s tax base will not improve without new methods of attracting, retaining and expanding businesses.
Since the report was made at the EDC’s behest, it focuses on what the EDC can do:
• Add more private-sector representation to the EDC board
• Target particular industries with a formal marketing strategy
• Charge for services, as grants and public funding sources are expected to dry up
• Assign paid “account managers” to guide and enhance the goal of expanding agriculture, tourism, healthcare, small businesses and “special projects”
• Collaborate with SUNY Sullivan and the Center for Workforce Development to encourage young people to work locally (i.e., reimburse 25 percent of tuition for those who stay/relocate here and complete a year of employment)
• Rework Industrial Development Agency (IDA) incentives to be on a sliding scale based upon the benefits a business offers to employees (i.e., more healthcare coverage means more incentives)
• Avoid wasting time and resources on areas where residents want no development
The report offers strategies on how to accomplish some of its suggestions, though EDC board members indicated anything that would require money (i.e., paying the “account managers”) is likely not currently workable.
The report’s authors do note that the County Legislature and SUNY Sullivan have new faces setting new goals.
“Whenever leadership change occurs, there exists a window of opportunity for rethinking strategies,” it states. “... Without making any judgments on prior administrations, there is an opportunity that comes with a fresh set of eyes to ask, ‘Is this the best we can be doing?’”
County budget nixed
MONTICELLO By a 6-3 vote, the County Legislature declined to adopt the $194 million tentative county budget yesterday at the meeting of the full legislature.
Legislators now have to scramble to finalize and pass an acceptable budget by the state-mandated Tuesday, Dec. 20 deadline.
Voting against the budget were David Sager, Kathy LaBuda, Elwin Wood, Frank Armstrong, Jodi Goodman and Leni Binder. “Aye” votes came from Alan Sorensen, Ron Hiatt and Jonathan Rouis.