Development opportunity ‘is now,’ panel says

There may be no better time than now to grow the region’s economy.

That was the message Tuesday morning from three panel members during an “Economic Development in Northern Chautauqua: Perspectives and Possibilities” breakfast at Jamestown Community College’s North County facility. Nearly 80 business leaders, community members and elected officials were in attendance at the event, which was presented by the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation Local Economic Development Committee.

On the minds of many during the discussion, led by Aaron Resnick of the Westfield Development Corp., was the impending closure of ConAgra’s Dunkirk and Fredonia plants. Panel member Dr. Kevin Kearns, vice president for engagement and economic development at Fredonia State, is looking at the closing as a potential opportunity.

“We have to look to the future,” he said, noting Western New York’s plight has been a long-term problem. “We have to stop looking for the home run, looking for one company to replace ConAgra. … I think we have to chip away at it, taking a decades-long view.”

Kearns also highlighted the Start-Up New York initiative, which is under the local control of Fredonia State University as well as Jamestown Community College. The program is based on tax breaks for the business as well as its employees.

“There’s never been an opportunity in New York like there is now,” Kearns said. “If we want to keep our kids and we want to attract jobs, this is the time to do it.”

Thomas Kucharski, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, said things are looking up for the region. Kucharski said that during his attendance at national gatherings, attendees are taking notice in the buzz occurring around Buffalo and Western New York.

“We don’t really realize it, but we’re doing a lot better than most parts of the country,” he said. “Now is our time to really start to work together.”

State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has played a large role in Buffalo’s comeback with the “Buffalo Billion,” which is money from Albany to help the state’s second-largest city. Some area officials believe Chautauqua County has the potential to gain a portion of those funds.

County Executive Vince Horrigan is one who would like to tap into those funds. Horrigan believes how to fix the high property tax burden is by growing the tax base. “We need industrial business, manufacturing and tourism also,” he said.

Horrigan also noted government efficiencies need to happen in the future, which can benefit the environment in this county to grow the economy.

“We, in this county, need to develop a sense of driving change in a positive attitude of getting it done,” he said, noting Chautauqua County needs to consider itself part of the Buffalo economy.

“We have got to educate this county on the benefits, the wins, of consolidation,” Horrigan said. “Whether its our schools coming together with declining enrollment with opportunities for better curriculum for opportunities in more efficient use of school taxes.

“We’ve got to get that done.”

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