County considers site selectors’ advice
GLOVERSVILLE –Fulton County economic officials are reviewing the findings of a site selector team and seeking ways to implement their suggestions.
Three international site selectors came to the Holiday Inn in Johnstown in September to speak with local officials and business owners about their findings. County economic officials spent three days in total with the site selectors group.
During the Sept. 29 Fulton County Center for Regional Growth Board of Director’s meeting Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz spoke about the selector’s findings and what the county can do with them.
“The most important thing is how impressed they were with everything that is being done in a small, rural county like Fulton. They said that numerous times and they were very impressed with what the CRG is doing, what the county is doing, and what the [Industrial Development Agency] is doing. And [they] clearly said we are heading in the right direction.
Mraz has already spoken with the Fulton County Board of Supervisors Economic Development Committee about the findings.
“We brought these folks here for a reason. They’re the best of the best. If we have them come here and give us all these ideas and suggestions and we don’t listen and do anything they are suggesting, it’s kind of a waste of money,” Mraz said.
Mraz said he is proposing the county implement two of the proposals made by the selectors: selecting two target industries and developing a targeted marketing campaign to try and introduce the county to those industries; and the second is to target “second-stage” companies.
Site selectors gave the county a list of specific industries to focus its target marketing efforts on including: packaging of food and beverage; plastics fabrication; back office/help desk; loan processing/backroom operations; medical records; miscellaneous metals fabrication; financial transactions; sporting goods; and any of the targeted industries identified in the Tryon Targeted Industry Analysis.
“My reaction was: ‘That’s great. That’s 15 industry clusters they think we should go after,'” Mraz said.
Mraz said however, that Fulton County was encouraged to focus on two.
He said of the two, the county was encouraged to go to those industries trade shows, speak with editors of trade magazines about current issues in those industries and develop advertising and marketing targeting those topics.
“I don’t think we need to hire somebody to say which two of the 15 we want to select. I think there is enough brain power in this room and in the county level that collectively we can do that,” Mraz said.
On the marketing front, Mraz said they were told $3 per capita (approximately $165,000 per year) should go to specific marketing strategy targeting start up manufacturing companies looking to expand in New York/New Jersey area to try and entice them to come up to Fulton County.
“That is not to pay salaries of your economic development team. That is your actual marketing where you hire professional folks to come in and do targeted marketing campaigns,” Mraz said.
Mraz said the selectors said that $3 per capita gets Fulton County the normal amount spent on marketing by areas looking to develop businesses.
He said these second-stage companies are those looking to grow, but might be hindered by high building costs in the New York City metro area.
Mraz said they will need to research the wants and needs of these companies and then develop a marketing campaign.
“We, as staff, need to gather some information about the wants and needs of these companies,” Mraz said. “Then we can sit down and say given what their wants and needs are, our strengths and weakness and the sites that we have and [find] what’s going to be the best fit,” Mraz said.
In addition, Mraz said the county has been planning a campaign to try and get people to live and work in Fulton County.
Mraz said the economic development committee gave its ok, and there are funds in the development fund for the next fiscal year that could be used for marketing. Fulton County has additionally applied to National Grid for a matching fund grant, since they were the sponsor of the Site Selector’s event.
“Hopefully [National Grid] will match the county dollars, and that will give us a pool of money from which we would look to do three things next year: one is developing the marketing program to attract people to come live and work in the county. Two, develop a marketing program targeted toward two targeted industries we’ll have to select who they are. And three, the targeted marketed program to go after second-stage companies in the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan Region.”
Board of Director’s member Kent Kirch said he finds it a good idea, but the marketing to get people to move here gives him pause.
“It’s one of those chicken or the egg things. Are there employment opportunities for people who want to come here. Because of course quality of life is great here and the cost of living is low so that’s an easy sell. But making a living up here can be a challenge,” he said.
Kirch suggested the county focus the other two first before moving onto the third.
Mraz said everyone will have a difference of opinion on what comes first, the people or the jobs.
Board of Director’s member Leslie Ford said there are mid-level jobs around here that college graduates who live here may not know about.
“There is a disconnect in information, so that maybe one of the issues,” she said.
Mraz said the site selectors were brought in to help Fulton County identify what the county can do differently and where it can improve itself.
Mraz said site selectors were very impressed with the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services’ Pathway’s in Technology Early College High School and Fulton-Montgomery Community College and other workforce development initiatives in Fulton County.
Mraz said the selectors were very positive about the relationship between HFM and FM and stated they would like to see more BOCES located on college campus’.
Other positives that were highlighted were a “fast-track” local permitting process; high quality of life; infrastructure capability including water and wastewater treatment; low occupancy and labor costs and a government that is “pro business.”
Mraz said areas that could use improvement the selectors found include: a need for more shovel ready sites, beyond what is currently available; and existing buildings the county controls that are ready for sale, lease, or development.
“Today, time is of the essence, [businesses] want [properties] built,” Mraz said. “That is something we should look at.”
Mraz said other areas the selectors found areas that needed improvement included a lack of rail service, 14% of the adult population lacking a high school diploma, a lack of racial diversity and high school taxes.
More statewide issues included a sense that electrical rates were too high and “New York State’s images as not being a business friendly state.”
Mraz said key observations that were made were that the county is facing a decline in both population and labor force.
“When I made my first meeting with them Thursday morning, they had already looked at all the data. They had their observation,” Mraz said. “We’ve been talking about [the population and workforce decline] here. I’ve been talking about that with the economic development committee.”
Mraz said Fulton County was told these population issues could present a challenge, since businesses want to move to an area where the population is growing. He said a growing population normally means a growing labor force.
He said local websites are the number one marketing tool in today’s business world, and the county and CRG should ensure their website are mobile ready.
Mraz said the county and economic entities need to have data about the county on the site, instead of links to other sites such as the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It is something we need to get done and have everything put onto the CRG’s website, the IDA’s website, the county’s website and the Chamber’s website, because you never know which is going to the be the first website they go to look for that data,” Mraz said.
Mraz said the county should also work to make the Tryon Technology Park more visually appealing by introducing new landscaping, tearing down rundown existing buildings and develop a shell building for offices.
“We are starting to pursue somethings in that regard,” Mraz said.
Mraz said they were told Fulton County should also look at pooling its resources with Montgomery County to market the Fulton-Montgomery region.
Kerry Minor can be reached at email@example.com.