WATERLOO — Before an economic development strategy can be implemented, Seneca County must first identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
A draft Seneca County Economic Development Strategy, called “Fostering the Next Generation of Growth,’’ has been completed listing those elements.
The report, prepared by Fairweather Consulting of New Paltz, lists the following strengths as favorable to growth: a strong manufacturing cadre; food processing, including wineries and distilleries; strong career and technical education providers; a committed, innovative business leadership group; and tourism and agri-tourism and development corridors along Routes 318 and 5&20 and the former Seneca Army Depot.
The opportunities that are identified include expansion of next generation manufacturers and service enterprises; expansion of the food and agri-tourism enterprises; cultural and heritage tourism; and building the capacity to attract new industries to the county on development corridors, using the federal opportunity zone program.
On the other hand, the county does face obstacles and some unfavorable conditions for economic growth. The report makes note of a weak electric grid and limited Broadband service; no clear economic development structure, partnerships or leadership; under-utilized downtowns; lack of housing for all income levels; lack of available, trained workers at all levels; uncertainty in local regulations; no shovel-ready sites; and odor from the Seneca Meadows Landfill.
In addition, the report lists several threats including an uncertain investment climate due to local regulatory uncertainty; fragmentation of economic development leadership; and increased competition for resources and jobs from within the state.
The plan has six goals, with a multi-year plan of action for each. Those goals are:
1) TARGET NEXT GENERATION ENTERPRISESThe proposed action steps are to maintain the business retention and expansion program of the IDA, to promote the county for other next generation enterprises by strengthening its relationship with the Greater Rochester Enterprise in its efforts to attract new businesses to the area and mobilizing regional agricultural resources to support continued innovation in agriculture and agri-tourism.
Also suggested are establishing industry sector roundtables to address members’ common issues and opportunities and building a mechanism to ensure business concerns — such as questions regarding the Seneca Meadows Landfill — are quickly addressed.
2) PROVIDE A RELIABLE PIPELINE OF SKILLED WORKERS
The immediate action steps to achieve this goal are the addition of a workforce development specialist to the IDA staff to complement the workforce development department. Also, a Seneca County Housing Task Force should be created to develop long-term responses to housing shortages in the county.
3) ADDRESS CONSTRAINTS THAT INVOLVE PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES
The immediate first steps deal with the electric grid that serves the county. The plan recommends working with New York State Electric & Gas Corporation and the state Public Service Commission for improved electricity capacity, particularly at the former depot and the Routes 318 and 5&20 corridors.
Next, the county should create a task force to define Broadband solutions.
4) IMPROVE EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS OF LOCAL BUSINESS REGULATIONS
The first steps in the plan are to promote uniform high levels of customer service and business friendly practices among officials responsible for reviewing development applications.
Next, the plan says the affected taxing jurisdictions of Seneca Falls and Waterloo should review their powers and roles as spelled out in the host agreements with the landfill and seek to improve their effectiveness in managing the landfill for all stakeholders to benefit. The landfill, the state’s largest, is scheduled to close by December 2025.
5) DEVELOP SHOVEL READY SITES FOR INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
The IDA should pursue development of shovel-ready sites such as the federally-designated Qualified Opportunity Zone in the town of Waterloo, which includes portions of the Routes 5&20 corridor.
The second step should have the county work closely with the state Department of Transportation and private developers to enhance chances for development along the Route 318 corridor, now that it has municipal sewer service.
6) CREATE EFFECTIVE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PARTNERSHIPS
Recommended steps to implement are:
• Position the IDA as a “one-stop’’ place for accessing economic development services and information, promoting a business friendly attitude.
• Convene a business leaders roundtable.
• Focus external marketing and tourism promotion.
• Expand the capacity and staff of the county Planning Department.
The plan also urges the county to capitalize on such assets as Cayuga and Seneca lakes and the other waterways, the region’s scenic beauty and quality of life, the former depot as the largest developable property in the Northeast, Finger Lakes National Forest, the Routes 318 and 414 corridor and proximity to the Thruway.
Supervisor Ralph Lott, R-Seneca Falls, said Fairweather has worked with an 11-member steering committee over the past year, meeting six times, to review the draft report.
“It seems to be a reasonably effective approach for the county to take,’’ Lott said.
Board chairman Bob Shipley, R-Waterloo, told the board and public on Sept. 10 that it is important to have a plan and to focus on the end result in a coordinated, unified and deliberate fashion.
“I applaud this collective effort. The process has been a multi-year, stepped progression to gather feedback and compile the necessary information that is now required to move our community forward,’’ Shipley said.
“I urge everyone, from supervisors and town officials to business leaders and concerned public citizens, to embrace this economic development process. We must be committed as a community to moving those plans from a concept to a reality.”
Whatever plan is adopted will include steps to be taken, a timetable to implement the plan and a method for monitoring how the plan is performing.
“This is the best opportunity for the public to weigh in on the plan with their thoughts, questions and comments,’’ said Steve Brusso, chairman of the IDA’s board of directors.