May 31, 2013 — Last summer, the CEO Roundtable hosted a public session at HFM BOCES where a long-term comprehensive Regional Business Development Plan was launched. The purpose of the Plan was to think regionally and to create strategies for developing our region; that Plan has not been sitting on a shelf. Economic development plans take time to reach their full implementation, sometimes 10 – 20 years. However, implementing any plan requires periodic updates to those involved, and to the public, on developments that have taken place. Such an update is the purpose of this article.
The Regional Business Development Plan includes the following vision: “The Fulton-Montgomery County Region is a progressive community providing a friendly climate for business growth and retention, a variety of entertainment venues for social gathering, an educated and trained workforce, and a diverse housing stock to meet the needs of the different lifestyles of its residents.” This vision of the future is supported by two overarching goals: 1) Create a Business Friendly Climate for the Region, 2) Retain Existing Businesses in the Region.
Additionally, there are six primary goals included in the Plan: 1) Educate and Train the Region’s Students for a 21st Century Workforce, 2) Develop Large and Small Shovel-Ready Sites, 3) Market the Region, 4) Improve the Region’s Quality of Life, 5) Extend Water, Sewer, Utilities, and Broadband Service Throughout the Region, and 6) Lower Local Property Tax Burden in the Region. Each of these goals enhances the Region in order to foster growth and prosperity.
Goal 1 centers on our region being able to provide a workforce for the 21st century. There has been a great deal of work to move our schools and students in that very direction. Area schools are beginning to implement the new common core standards that are designed to better prepare students for college and careers. BOCES has been working with area districts to systemic collaboration on curriculum and to ensure that every student has learning opportunities regardless of the district that he/she attends. Plans are in place to offer a technology focused high school program at the Jansen Street School as early as fall 2013. BOCES is launching an Apprentice Program in fall 2013 that brings education and business together in a European model that combines school and work. School districts are aligning schedules that will allow students to share teachers via technology. BOCES and the FM Chamber sponsored a Career Fair for eighth-grade students to learn about industries and jobs available in our region. And, several districts are regionalizing some operations (transportation, food service, etc.) in an effort to control the cost of education.
Additionally, FM has invested heavily in technology on-campus to prepare students for 21st century careers. From the new clean-room, to an automated manufacturing lab, to high-tech patient simulators, to new computers, iPads and software; all designed to provide students with experiences that mirror the modern workplace. Additionally, FM has launched new degree programs and modified several programs to reflect the skills needed by area business and industry in order to ensure that its programs are relevant and to prepare students for work.
Goal 2 deals with having local shovel-ready sites for industry to locate. Fulton County has been working with New York State to transfer ownership of Tryon Park to the Fulton County IDA. This transfer will allow the site to be a new business and industry park, complete with infrastructure, ready for development. Montgomery County has been working to expand the Florida Park Extension in preparation for new potential industries.
Goal 3 is marking our region. While each County continues to market itself through a variety of venues, through the CEO Roundtable, a collaborative effort is underway to plan two regional tours. One tour which will target site selectors is planned for summer of 2013. This joint effort will bring national site selectors to our region where we will highlight the number of developable sites available in our region. It will also focus on the attributes our region has to offer including proximity to major markets, inexpensive land, available workforce, etc.
The second tour is planned for fall 2013 and is targeted toward developers. This tour will highlight our three cities and the potential for development within each of them. There is potential for development of entertainment venues, new housing models, eateries, coffee shops, etc., as part of creating social centers in our region.
These efforts under Goal 3 are also closely aligned with Goal 4 – improving the region’s quality of life. Specifically under Goal 4 is the development of our Cities’ downtowns. To that end, the CEO Roundtable hosted two symposia thus far. One provided representatives from government, planning boards, etc., to hear how the City of Auburn has reinvented itself and to hear from developers what they look for when considering projects in various communities. The second symposium focused on marketing. From that symposium, new initiatives to organize downtown business owners have been launched. It is the belief of the CEO Roundtable that revitalizing our cities is the key to developing an enhanced quality of life.
Goal 5 addresses the need for water, sewer, and other infrastructure services throughout the region. To that end, the CEO Roundtable strongly supports Fulton County’s exploration of a county-wide water and sewer system. The ability to provide these services to companies locating in our region, or growing in our region, is critical to the area’s growth. The vision of providing these services to all who need them will grow our region and our cities. While other communities greet potential companies with open arms, water and sewer have been stumbling blocks in Fulton County; a new regional system will make the county much more attractive to new and growing businesses.
Goal 6 focuses on lowering property taxes. While our local counties and school districts have been doing what they can to control spending, they have done what they can without crippling services. As stated above, BOCES is working to regionalize some operations of area districts in an effort to reduce costs. Counties have controlled, and even lowered, spending for the past two to three years. However, a region can only shrink to success for so long. The only true way to control the property tax burden is to grow the base so that costs can be spread among more residents, businesses, and industries. The entire Regional Business Development Plan is focused on growth because growth brings opportunities for local citizens. Growth brings prosperity for the region. Growth distributes the costs of public services as to not overburden area residents. Growth improves the quality of life by providing a more diverse selection of things to do in our communities, as well as services and goods closer to home. This is why we must focus on growth in our region. In today’s competitive environment, regions must grow or perish.
The CEO Roundtable, and others in our community, has been working hard to implement the Regional Business Development Plan. They have been focused on improving our region and making it a better place to live, work, and play. Together, our region will thrive long into the future.
Submitted by: Dr. Dustin Swanger on behalf of the CEO Roundtable