Positioning Sullivan County for economic growth
By Susan Jaffe
In writing this article on how we can best position Sullivan County for economic growth, I decided to draw on my perspective as the commissioner of community and economic development as well as my experience as a second-home owner in the Catskills (20 years) turned full time resident and a local business owner.
My husband and I moved full time to Sullivan County after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. Once settled, we decided that we wanted to start a business in Sullivan County. After looking at possible locations, we were surprised by the lack of infrastructure that was in place to support a business, specifically, access to water, sewer, electric and broadband services. After much consideration, we decided to take advantage of Sullivan County’s natural assets and start a small family farm specializing in grass-fed poultry and meat because of the abundance of land and the low capital investment required.
While Sullivan County is a great place to live and visit, there are many challenges with respect to business expansion, retention and attraction. In addition to water, sewer, electric and broadband, a recent survey of 143 Site Location Advisors, Corporate Real Estate Brokers, and Corporate Executives by the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation confirmed that the most important factors in site selection are (1) business-friendly government, (2) efficient transportation systems, (3) competitive incentives/tax exemptions (4) low overall costs, and (5) availability of skilled and professional workers.
Encouraging business investment in our county requires us to take a serious look at our existing resources and economic development infrastructure. The Sullivan County Legislature has placed economic development as one of the county’s top priorities, because it is essential to improving the financial health of our community.
Moving forward, we must be prepared to make the investment to achieve our common goals. This can be done by securing the input of our local municipalities in determining not only the kinds of businesses we would like to see in the county, but also which communities would be ideal for the location of specific kinds of businesses. Second, we need to ensure that we have a number of “shovel ready” sites where there is access to water, sewer, electric, broadband, the zoning is consistent with the community’s needs, and where possible, an Empire Zone designation. Third, our county’s portfolio of business incentives must be reviewed and updated. Competitive business incentives are important to keeping the jobs and investment dollars of new and existing business owners (agricultural and non-agricultural) in our county. Fourth, our local workforce should be afforded every opportunity to meet the demands of emerging fields and technologies. Last but not least, the Sullivan County Legislature’s proposed economic development corporation will go a long way toward co-locating and better coordinating the services of the county’s economic development partner agencies.
(Susan Jaffe is Sullivan County’s Commissioner of the Division of Community and Economic Development. Her division includes the Center for Workforce Development, Empire Zone Program, Youth Bureau, and the County’s Agricultural Economic Developer.)