The Elmira Star Gazette published these stories re: Schuyler County on Sunday 25 February 2007. It is encouraging news for our County from the County Executive, Tim O'Hearn:
The overall economic outlook for Schuyler County is extremely positive. There is a synergy among all of the partners in our community that has created a new level of excitement and optimism for the future. Our natural beauty and resources combined with the world-renowned reputation of Watkins Glen International and the potential of becoming the Napa Valley of the east collectively position the county for unprecedented growth. Schuyler County is experiencing a modest growth in population that is expected to increase over the next few years. One of our greatest challenges is to be prepared to manage this growth in a responsible fashion. In 2007 we will complete both a transportation and housing needs assessment and begin to implement measures to accommodate these needs. Local land use planning and code enforcement are two areas that will be studied by the Council of Governments this year as well. In 2007 our primary goal is to be well positioned to manage what could very well be explosive growth over the next decade. Specific challenges include occupancy of a shovel-ready business park, completion of the Catherine Valley Trail, and a county-wide property revaluation to ensure equity and accuracy in property assessments.
The county will work closely with SCOPED, Chamber of Commerce, and Cornell Cooperative Extension as partners in promoting tourism and tourism related economic development. Agritourism and ecotourism are specific areas that can be further developed. We are fortunate to be considered a destination for over 1.5 million visitors annually. As we welcome visitors from all over the world we will work to enhance our reputation as a premier place to visit, work or live. I have every confidence that those numbers will significantly increase in the coming years as a new Visitors Center is developed and the Chamber of Commerce continues to build on its past success.
With regard to supporting economic development we have finalized the boundaries for our Empire Zone, allowing for significant incentives to encourage investment and employment strategically within the county. The County Legislature has adopted a number of property tax exemptions to encourage revitalization of our main street areas, and local government and school districts are considering similar measures. Local government leaders are working collaboratively to share services and increase efficiencies, resulting in a lower property tax burden throughout the county.
Recognizing the significance of agriculture to our local economy, this year will mark the revision of the county's agricultural master plan designed to further promote as well as preserve this vital resource. Schuyler County is one of the first counties in the state to reach this important implementation benchmark.
One of the biggest impediments to economic development in every county is the property tax burden. Workers' compensation and high energy costs are also detrimental to business development. We are cautiously optimistic that government reform at the state level will result in a reduction of the local property tax burden. With regard to Medicaid, the state's recent cap on county expenditures has certainly helped our local tax burden. However, this is only the beginning; we must continue the efforts to reform Medicaid and work toward overall cost reduction regardless of who pays the bill. To that end, state sponsored increased local initiatives and the creation of incentives for all counties to improve program performance could result in significant additional savings without substantially reducing recipient benefits. Elimination of unfunded mandates, repeal of Wick's legislation and the extension of Empire Zone benefits for renewable energy projects such as wind farms are specific examples of state initiatives that would benefit local municipalities and school districts. Generally speaking, one of the greatest benefits to promoting economic development would be the strengthening of partnerships between the state and local governments.
Tourism and retail sectors are the strongest with agriculture a close second. The outlook is extremely positive for all sectors and it is likely that construction and building trades will see increases this year due to the development of a new luxury waterfront hotel and conference center as well as an increase in the number of housing start-ups. Schuyler County has eliminated the sales tax on clothing with the hope that this will serve as a catalyst for additional retail growth and development. As sales tax receipts continue to increase, it appears that this strategy will be successful. We will also be formulating an agritourism initiative designed to enhance visitors' experiences while showcasing our agricultural producers.
Without question, the fastest growing segment of our local economy is the retail and services sector. This is a direct result of the dramatic increase experienced in the tourism industry. The natural beauty of this region coupled with the continued popularity of the Finger Lakes Wine Trail has resulted both in increased tourism dollars as well as the number of wineries and vineyards in our area. The immediate impact of this growth is increased investments in property development as well as sales tax revenues. Also of significance is the agricultural sector. As of 2003, Schuyler County had over 400 farms with sales of 18 million dollars. The proportion of land area in farms is now in excess of 35 percent. While agriculture is not the fastest growing sector there continues to be growth, which in itself is notable given the overall decline in national, state and regional trends.
Tim O'Hearn, the county administrator in Schuyler County, shares his views on the county's economic outlook.
And the Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce agrees:
In 2006, the Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce changed, challenged old thinking, collaborated with partners and made positive things happen.
For 2007, the Chamber is planning for more growth and improvement, thanks to a newly rolled out strategic plan.
In 2006, the chamber welcomed new president, Cynthia Kimble; completed a merger with Watkins Glen Promotions; received grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Assemblyman Tom O'Mara and State Sen. George Winner, Wal-Mart, and The ARTS of the Southern Finger Lakes; and improved the look of the Visitors Center inside and out, including a historical mural on two outer walls.
The chamber added new member benefits to serve its 340-plus constituency, including a new e-mail referral system, small business insurance program, a local brochure exchange, a familiarization tour and a new member breakfast. Over 65 people attended five chamber-sponsored business education seminars.
The chamber was recognized nationally by being named a Top 10 Membership Retention Award Winner in the under $200,000 category by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.
Over 14,500 travelers were greeted in the Chamber's Watkins Glen Visitors Center, from 47 states and 24 countries.
The Chamber was in front of nearly 100 travel writers, and received coverage in outlets including Fodors.com, Frommers.com, Newsday, the Boston Globe, AAA "Going Places" and Rand McNally Travel News.
For 2007, the Chamber's goals are to improve membership survey results, increase new memberships, show improvement in membership retention, improve occupancy rates in the county and perform within budget parameters.
"We want our members to know we are stable, strong, and working for them," said Kimble. "We are continuing to look for ways to bring them new benefits in return for their commitment to the chamber."
The chamber is working to revitalize their committees of volunteers. Committees range from business education, to tourism, ambassadors, marketing and government affairs. Events like the NASCAR-based "Thunder in the Glen" and Watkins Glen's "Village Christmas" need chairpersons.
"Committees are a great way to get your feet wet and get involved with what's happening at the Chamber as well as in the community at large," said Kimble.
New member benefits for 2007 include a Business Expo and member-to-member discounts.
A number of new initiatives will bring new people to the county, which will boost the economy. Initiatives include agritourism, cultural arts and fiber arts, the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, and Captain Bill's larger vessel.
"These new developments tie in so well with what we already have in the Watkins Glen State Park, the wineries, Seneca Lake and the racetrack, that everyone stands to benefit -- especially our visitors," said Kimble.
For more information, contact the Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce at (607) 535-4300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Benjamin is tourism director for the Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce.
Seneca Lake on a beautiful day