Schoharie County needs everyone to work together when it comes to economic development.
And that means--at least for now--supporting the IDA and SEEC under one leadership.
That’s the argument made Tuesday, when in a preview of the likely discussion at Friday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Alicia Terry shared her vision for “Shaping the Way Forward 2023” at a special meeting of her Economic Development Committee.
While Ms. Terry worked to “keep everybody in the middle of the room instead of backed into the corners,” Supervisor Don Airey quickly cut to the chase, criticizing what he sees as the “optics” of SEEC CEO Julie Pacatte also leading the IDA in a 66/33 split of her time—at least initially.
The real issue, though, was whether the county will stand by its pledge of $130,000 a year for five years to help the IDA grow.
IDA chair Chester Burton told the group the split wasn’t what they were looking for either, but none of the fulltime candidates interviewed for CEO had Ms. Pacatte’s experience.
The IDA’s plan is to take a year to see how it works, even as SEEC is also transitioning toward more of a Main Street focus--even if the county withdraws its funding, Mr. Burton said.
At the same time, Ms. Terry said, SEEC is beginning work on a plan for a partnership with not only the IDA, but SUNY Cobleskill and Destination Marketing as a way to better focus shared economic goals.
It’s been five years since the Fairweather Report, Ms. Pacatte said—three of them COVID—and never before has the county had so many “significant development projects on our doorstep.”
“But we don’t have unlimited resources,” added Ms. Terry, and with just part-time funding, the IDA doesn’t have the time to pursue projects like those knocking in Schoharie, Cobleskill, and Sharon Springs.
Mr. Airey, the most vocal of the shared position’s opponents, said he sees at least the perception of a conflict of interest between SEEC and the IDA.
Supervisors chair Bill Federice, who listed strengthening the IDA in one of his goals for 2022, said he and other supervisors are concerned that “We need a fulltime [IDA] director “and we’re not getting a fulltime director,”--the whole reason for the funding.
Ms. Terry pointed out that the agreement between the IDA and the county doesn’t specify how the IDA will be structured.
And she brought the conversation back to economic development.
“Please do not forget there are projects on our doorstep,” she said, “We have not, in 20 or 30 years, had the number of magnitude of economic development projects with such a high degree of viability. The timing of this is critical.”
Also criticizing the shared job was Cobleskill Mayor Becky Terk, who said she hasn’t seen any real economic development, either from SEEC or the IDA, and County Treasurer Mary Ann Wollaber-Bryan, who asked whether there are any other models like it.
Yes, said Ms. Terry said to the second question, they’re more the rule than the exception, including Mohawk Edge in Oneida County.
As to the other, business retention and expansion is typically 70-80 percent of any new job creation, she said.
“Those big projects…they’re the sexy projects, they get the big headlines. But there’s a whole ’nother level…”
Peter Johnson, a founding member of SEEC and an IDA board member, called himself “very surprised, discouraged, and a little but angry,” over the push-back.
With or without the county money, the IDA will find a way to make it work, he said, but “I’m reminded why it’s not a good idea to work with government. Government is an unreliable partner and you’re showing your unreliability by quibbling over nickels and dimes.”