Legislature panel laments Carriage House closure

MAYVILLE – The Plan-ning and Economic Devel-opment Committee had a short agenda for its monthly meeting.

Although an agreement was discussed to establish a Small Business Develop-ment Center at Jamestown Community College in cooperation with the State University of New York, economic development was the main topic of conversation.

“I think economic development is reasonably important tonight,” said Fred Larson, D-Jamestown, referencing an announcement Wednesday that ConAgra will close both Carriage House operations in Dunkirk and Fredonia, causing a loss of 425 jobs.

“We were blindsided with this news,” said County Executive Vince Horrigan. “A representative from ConAgra said the decision to close both plants was final. February 15 of next year will be the end of production. It’s terrible news.”

Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk, said the company’s presence in the north county would be missed.

“The writing was on the wall it sounds like, and there’s nothing we could have done,” he said. “But, I don’t want to see the county blamed for not coming to the plate.”

Other legislators had similar views.

“To be so unwilling to look at what we have to offer and what we can do to keep them here – to completely shut us out from making our case – is disturbing,” said George Borrello, R-Irving.

Larson questioned whether or not the county had known ConAgra would close it shortly after Carriage House was purchased.

“I hear two different stories,” he said. “I talked with someone today involved with industrial machinery and he knew orders were being canceled a long time ago. It doesn’t sound like we got blindsided.”

Further efforts involving job loss numbers in the county were discussed, although conversation was tense.

“I’m concerned that there are thousands of people in this county that are looking for work and can’t find it,” Larson said. “If we pretend that everything’s hunky dory because someone in the industrial park added four jobs, and someone in Westfield hired six, we’re not helping our people at all.”

Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, said he didn’t think the lack of jobs had so much to do with the Industrial Development Agency or county administration, but moreso high New York state taxes.

“I understand Fred’s concerns, as they’re my concerns,” Horrigan said. “We have got to grow this county. Every single job is essential. We’re focused and we’re going to do every single thing we can.”

In terms of the agenda’s resolution, Bill Daly, executive director for the IDA, said Small Business Development Centers are housed in community colleges across the state and are federally funded.

An amount of $34,653 was designated for a technical assistance program in order to aid start-up businesses in the county through the business center.

All resolutions discussed at this week’s committee meetings will be voted on at the legislature’s full regular meeting next Wednesday at 6:30 in the legislative chambers of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.

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