EDITOR'S NOTE: As 2012 draws to a close, The Leader-Herald is reviewing the top local stories of the year in a five-part series. Today, we look at the year's top local stories regarding economic development, commerce and industry.
After several years of more bust than boom, 2012 brought some hopeful signs for the economy in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
Some of the best news was saved for last, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced just before Christmas that several development projects in the area will get millions of dollars in state funding. They include an aquaculture facility in Montgomery County's Glen Canal View Business Park, which is expected to create 175 jobs. The state will provide $1.4 million of the project's estimated $50 million cost.
In Fulton County, $1 million in state money will support the expansion of the Gloversville-Johnstown Wastewater Treatment Facility, which will grow to accommodate more output from Fage USA's Greek yogurt factory. Fage itself is undertaking a $150 million expansion that could add 150 jobs at the yogurt plant in Johnstown.
Cuomo announced Hamilton County will receive $1.7 million to improve its broadband internet connectivity, which has been cited as necessary for economic development in the Adirondack county whose unemployment rate is among the highest in the state.
Hundreds of thousands of state dollars will go to additional projects in Amsterdam, Canajoharie, Northville and other local communities, Cuomo announced.
The quality and abundance of Fulton County's water resources came to the forefront again this year, as California-based CG Roxane began construction of its new water-bottling plant.
The company plans to erect a 170,000-square-foot structure in the town of Johnstown, where a staff of 33 will start packaging its Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water next year. The company has said it could hire additional workers after it completes a second phase of construction to add warehouse space.
Plans for Tryon site
As 2013 approaches, Fulton County is poised to take possession of the stated-owned Tryon youth detention facility property on the Johnstown-Perth line.
The 515-acre complex was closed in 2011, and the county plans to turn it into what will be called the Tryon Technology Park and Incubator Center. State and local officials say the site, with its 40 existing buildings, could be ready to welcome its first business occupants in 2013, and it could eventually generate hundreds of jobs.
Fulton County expects to receive the deed for the property in the first quarter of the new year.
Local development officials took steps this year to dispel the lingering cloud of a 2010 scandal that presented a setback for the Fulton County Economic Development Agency and its real-estate subsidiary, the Crossroads Incubator Corp. After the departure of the agency's two top executives - who pocketed more than $1 million each in bonuses, apparently without approval from their boards of directors - the EDC and CIC reorganized under a new umbrella agency called the Center for Regional Growth.
The agency, whose mission is to promote economic activity at its business and industrial parks and provides loans to support local business ventures, has been locked in a legal battle with a stage entity over the question of whether it is a public or private organization. The state Authorities Budget Office contends the EDC and CIC are public agencies and therefore subject to public scrutiny of their financial records, but officials with the newly overhauled CRG contend its operations are private. Officials have not said when they expect the legal fight to be resolved, either in or out of court.
The Fulton County EDC got another black eye this year, when the city of Gloversville sued over a loan fund that appears to be in limbo for reasons that have not been disclosed.
Gloversville obtained the money in 1993 through a federal Housing and Urban Development grant, and it contracted with the EDC to administer the loans. City officials said this year they asked the EDC to transfer the fund back to city control, but the EDC refused.
In October, the city filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Fulton County in an effort to recover control of the loan fund, worth more than $1.5 million. The fund, which includes 14 active loans and is said to have a cash balance of almost $1 million, was intended to be used for the support of Gloversville business ventures.
Eagle Chevrolet Cadillac, one of several auto dealerships along Johnstown's Route 30A arterial, began work on a major expansion project this year. The proposed new construction - which straddles the city-town line - got final approval in September after the two municipalities resolved a disagreement about access to municipal water and sewer services.
Owner James Provenzano said he was pleased to see the $3 million project moving forward this fall. Construction is expected to continue in the spring.
The area had several examples of commercial development pop up in 2012, including the recent opening of a new retail building at the Amsterdam Commons shopping complex off Route 30, which is anchored by Target and Kohl's stores.
A Panera Bread restaurant in the Commons' newest building opened for business just in time to benefit from the Christmas rush. The new Kwiat Eye & Laser Surgery facility opened just up the road in recent months, as well.
Amsterdam Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said since Route 30's construction 40 years ago, the area has developed significantly.
"There is a reason they call it the Miracle Mile," he said.
In Johnstown, officials welcomed news that a new TJ Maxx department store will be built in the shopping center that already includes Romana's, Applebee's and Dunkin Donuts restaurants and several retail stores.
Construction of the TJ Maxx building was expected to begin by the end of this year, but it has been put off until spring, according to Michael Wachs, owner of the shopping plaza property.
A loss averted
Gloversville nearly lost one of its golf courses this year, when the nonprofit organization that owns the Pine Brook Golf Club on South Main Street was unable to open as a private club this season.
"There is not the interest in this community for a private golf club anymore," Pine Brook President George Ringland said this year.
But the golf course and its clubhouse restaurant stayed open in 2012, managed through a lease agreement by Blansper Enterprises, the landscaping company owned by Don Blanchard and Jim Esper.
The city of Gloversville declined to take over Pine Brook as a municipal course, but Blansper intends to renew the lease agreement and keep the course open to the public next season, according to a recent report.
Motorists may have less to complain about in 2013 after this year saw the completion of major bridge-replacement projects in Johnstown, Fonda, Edinburg.
For months, construction projects had caused detours around Johnstown's North Perry Street Bridge and long waits at the Route 30A bridge from Fonda to Fultonville. Both projects were completed before the end of the year.
The long-awaited replacement of the Batchellerville Bridge was completed in November, re-establishing an important route over the Great Sacandaga Lake between Fulton and Saratoga counties. The $46.7 million project was finished a year ahead of schedule - a welcome development for residents of the area.
"When people realized it was open ... they would smile, raise their thumb or fist-pump," Edinburg Supervisor Jean Raymond said.