Monday, February 21, 2011
(Monticello) – County Manager David P. Fanslau announced that he has sent a memorandum to the members of the Sullivan County Economic Development Council (EDC). The memorandum urges the EDC to develop the Sullivan County Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and Plan, with the support of the Sullivan County Planning Department, for recommendations to the County Legislature.
Fanslau said “In the five months that have passed since the September 2010 organization of the Sullivan County Economic Development Council (EDC), some activities have occurred on the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohican off-reservation casino and resort development, and the East Broadway Redevelopment Area – formerly known as the Apollo Plaza and surrounding County owned parcels.
While I believe that Sullivan County should not abandon its support for an off-reservation casino resort that may eventually be authorized by the Federal Government, the County’s focus must move to more readily achievable economic development goals. The EDC should consider recommending to the County Legislature to formally request that the State Legislature commence the process necessary to amend the State Constitution to provide for casino gaming in Sullivan County.
Also, the County Legislature has scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday, February 23rd, in part to determine the developer and project for the Apollo Plaza and adjacent County-owned parcels that the County Attorney will be authorized to negotiate terms on performance and timelines. The selection of developers and projects for the East Broadway Redevelopment Area is truly a progressive milestone, and a process that will assist with putting the County’s best foot forward with an area that is in much need of redevelopment and private-sector investment.
The owners of the Monticello Casino and Raceway have announced a vision, in the Times Herald Record, to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in their operations, and to develop hotel(s) and resorts on site that may include an indoor water theme park similar to Canyon Ranch or Great Wolf Lodge. Obviously, the County should be and certainly would be supportive of these plans, particularly with the promised construction and permanent jobs and increased sales tax revenues and room tax revenues that would assist with the County’s budget and with marketing the County for increased tourism activity.
However, I want to turn our attention as an EDC, and as a County Government, toward a long-held goal of creating and implementing a Sullivan County Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and Plan (SCCEDSP). This SCCEDSP should identify the County’s strengths and opportunities and the County’s weaknesses and challenges. The changing economic circumstances facing Sullivan County demand that we focus on the County’s key issues and challenges.
When I appointed Luiz Aragon as the Planning Commissioner in August of 2009, I envisioned that a great deal of his efforts were to be focused on this comprehensive economic development strategy and plan. A little over one year ago, Luiz facilitated the charrette at Bethel Woods, and a number of positive outcomes in terms of marketing the County, and communicating with various stakeholders have been realized. However, much more work is necessary, particularly with unemployment continuing to hover near ten percent, and sales tax revenues nearly four million dollars less than they were in 2008.
The high level areas that I believe should be focused upon would be opportunities for (1) Tourism and Agriculture infrastructure and business retention; (2) New development opportunities; and (3) Redevelopment and reuse opportunities. The County should develop a business culture that will ultimately make a difference in the County’s performance in productivity, prosperity and economic growth. To develop and maintain a strong and welcoming business environment, the County must continue to develop a culture of collaboration, realizing that an area’s well being and its ability to compete are conditioned by the level of trust inherent in its society. The County should focus its efforts on an economy that will strengthen the current industry leaders in healthcare, tourism, and agriculture, but it also should turn toward developing an innovation based economy with a shared vision, widely discussed.
Sullivan County should seek to expand its Commercial base, including increased healthcare, retail, tourism, and agriculture opportunities, by building on its current strengths; providing the foundation for new opportunities; and planning activities that which advance the quality of life for all its citizens and businesses. The following five (5) broad framework goals should be considered as part of the SCCEDSP priorities:
- Work to expand and diversify the County’s economic base to provide a broader range of new jobs and a more viable mix of industries.
- Reduce unemployment, economic distress and economic inequities throughout the County.
- Focus development and jobs around centers of employment and population with an emphasis on the revitalization of the downtowns and the redevelopment of underutilized commercial properties.
- Improve the public transportation and highway circulation systems in the County to serve businesses and commercial centers more effectively.
- Enhance and coordinate marketing efforts to promote Sullivan County as a destination for new businesses, tourism, and agriculture, and the expansion of the healthcare sector.
The SCCEDSP should also focus on establishing performance measures to measure success:
- Economic Diversification
- Reducing areas of distress
- Community and Private Sector Partnership
- Quality of Life Indicators
One of the purposes of developing the SCCEDSP would be to address the challenges facing the economy, to reset priorities, and to monitor the impacts to the overall economy:
- Business Retention and Relief from Recessionary Impacts.
- Retail and Sales tax generating businesses
- Utilizing the County owned airport in Bethel as an economic development engine
The SCCEDSP should develop a plan of action and an action agenda that will work on developing a focus on a countywide basis, but it should also develop a plan that addresses the needs of each town, village, and hamlet, as economic development is not a one-size-fits-all tool.
Finally, with sales tax revenues being the largest source of revenues for the County Government, outside of the real property tax levy, there should be a concerted effort and focus throughout the County on developing opportunities to realize increased revenues from sales taxes. But, the overall highest priority must be the development of a jobs action plan that will reduce the unemployment rate and the poverty rate within Sullivan County.”