Johnson gambles political future on job growth

ASHVILLE – Although politicians are full of campaign promises, they seldom risk their political futures if they fail to accomplish them.

Fredonia business leader Ron Johnson, the Democratic and Independence candidate for Chautauqua County executive, spoke at a press conference on Wednesday, pledging that if he’s unable to turn the county’s 7,000-plus job loss around, he would not seek re-election.

“If Chautauqua County does not post gains in its jobs or workforce three years into my first term, I will not seek election or accept my party’s nomination for re-election as county executive,” Johnson said.

The pledge was made outside the closed AFA food plant near Ashville, where Johnson used the backdrop to illustrate his frustration over county leaders and their inability to attract and retain businesses and infrastructure.

“This closed plant is an example of another failed economic development attempt, and yet county leaders claim they are powerless,” Johnson said. “They blame state mandates, they blame the federal government, they blame each other.”

Johnson seeks to refocus the county’s business model on marketing and areas of investment.

“We need to know exactly what we have to market,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to have another situation where we have a plant that has announced that … they’re going to create new jobs and make investments in our area, then we find out at the last minute that there’s an infrastructure problem.”

Johnson also plans to invest in industrial plants and move forward with Start-Up NY, a state initiative which turns SUNY campuses and other university communities into tax-free areas for new businesses.

“Successful business operators find solutions and grow despite outside forces they have little control over,” Johnson said. “I believe with the right leader, our county can do the same.”

Johnson is facing Republican legislator Vince Horrigan of Bemus Point in next month’s election, held on Nov. 5.

Johnson is a fifth-generation Chautauqua County resident, owner and operator of Johnson Adult Homes in Fredonia and former lead developer of Fredonia Place retirement community.