A New Identity Is Needed In South County
The pending closure of much of Truck-Lite’s Falconer plant should give policy makers pause when thinking about the economy in the Jamestown area.
There are many shiny new baubles in the area. The National Comedy Center is drawing people downtown. Jamestown Brewing Company and the Beer Snob have opened. The Harbor Hotel has opened to rave reviews in Celoron.
These are all good things, and yet one can’t help but wonder what the future holds in an area that is struggling to hold on to good-paying manufacturing jobs while adding new jobs in tourism-related jobs or in retail stores. Truck-Lite is only the latest in the decades-long erosion of the Jamestown-area economy, but the end result is as sobering as ever. For now the area is lucky to have places like TitanX, Artone, Bush Industries and Cummins Inc. making things and employing people.
Chautauqua County reached a 30-year low in the number of employed residents early in 2017. Those numbers have rebounded from 50,700 in January and February 2017 to 51,500 in December 2019. Still, the December 2019 number is a far cry from the 65,800 people who were employed in Chautauqua County in the summer of 1990. And, while the county was never particularly rich, one can’t help but wonder if poverty is worse now than it has ever been before. Almost 37% of Jamestown’s households are classified as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed households, according to the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County. That basically means that 37% of Jamestown’s households are a couple of missed paychecks or one major vehicle or home repair from having nothing left. Couple that with the roughly 30% of Jamestown’s population living beneath the poverty line and you get a sobering picture of the local economy. That’s not a solution to the asset limitations and poverty that pervade many of Jamestown’s neighborhoods. Middle class neighborhoods are no longer immune from seeing neighbors removed from a house deemed unlivable because their neighbors couldn’t afford to keep the water, electricity and heat on in the dead of winter.
Chautauqua County’s economy is ripe for a revival. There are high hopes for enhancing the county’s agriculture industry by focusing even more intently on grapes and hops in the middle and northern parts of the county. Dunkirk is energized by the addition of Athenex and the possibility of spin-off development from the pharmaceutical company.
What is there for the Jamestown metro area to hang its collective hat on in the future? There have been a lot of plans and a lot of studies over the years. Now is the time for the area’s policy makers to come together and figure out what Jamestown’s economy will look like 50 years from now. That conversation started during last year’s Jamestown mayoral campaign, when Mayor Eddie Sundquist campaigned on a vision of turning Jamestown into a hub for manufacturing and information technology.
If that is the direction in which we’re headed, it’s time to put some meat on the outline Sundquist provided on the campaign trail. We need to put the greater Jamestown metro area back to work.
For decades, the greater Jamestown area’s collective identity was the furniture industry and the collective wealth it created. It’s time for southern Chautauqua County to have a new identity — one that brings with it the type of living wage jobs that will allow the city’s neighborhoods to thrive.