IDA Job Creation: ‘Pathetic’ Or ‘Epic’

In November 2008 the state Department of Labor reported there were 62,000 employed in Chautauqua County. In November 2022 there were only 49,000 employed, down by 13,000. This is a catastrophic loss that is hard to comprehend.

In the January 28-29, 2023 Post Journal, the “Deputy County Executive for Economic Development” and “Chief Executive Officer of the CCIDA”, says 2022 was an “epic” year for the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency.

In terms of the CCIDA making grants, loans, tax exemptions and payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements, the allegation is all of these taxpayer “giveaways” during 2022 are “projected” to result in 363 jobs. An earlier press release was more specific that the 363 projected jobs would be over the next 3 years.

First of all, government giveaways seldom have any real penalty for not creating “projected” jobs. Maybe there wind up being only 36 jobs. Surely no County press release would be issued letting you know of such a shortcoming.

Taken in context, 363 jobs over 3 years barely counts as a drop in the bucket.

The recent loss alone of Truck-Lite in Falconer (founded in Jamestown in 1956) to Michigan and Pittsburgh eliminated at least 400 jobs. Those were corporate headquarters jobs, research and development jobs, engineering jobs as well as manufacturing jobs.

The downsizing by 300 jobs just happened at one County company, Dunkirk Wells ice cream plant.

When Carriage House closed in Fredonia and Dunkirk a few years ago we lost 500 jobs.

When Petri Baking closed in Silver Creek we lost 200 jobs.

There are too many other major job losses throughout Chautauqua County in the last 10 years to even include in this essay

In terms of “projected” jobs in CCIDA announcements, one must be skeptical.

In May of 2020 the County Executive announced Petri Baking would come back to Silver Creek. “About 40 new jobs are planned when operations begin in early 2021, with over 100 projected during the first three years.”

In June of 2022 the CCIDA announced that there would not be 40 jobs or 100 jobs. Instead, the former Petri Baking would merely be a warehouse and distribution center with 6 jobs.

When we lose 200 real jobs and told of 100 “projected” jobs and wind up with 6 jobs, an unbiased observer would not call this a success.

The CCIDA has done a great job of bringing in fees as the price for receiving each of its “giveaways.” It keeps those fees to make payroll. Whether the “giveaways” will lead to 1 job or 50 apparently makes very little difference to the CCIDA.

Parents and grandparents do not care much about huge government grants, low interest government loans, sales tax breaks and mortgage tax breaks if the “giveaways” do not lead to more family-sustaining jobs for their children and grandchildren.

Since 2008, as thousands of jobs have disappeared from Chautauqua County, when our children and grandchildren became aware of good job opportunities in North Carolina or South Carolina, for example, many have gone there to build a better future for themselves.

Unlike Chautauqua County, next door to us in Buffalo and Erie County, they are adding jobs and population and a vibrant community has grown in the Buffalo area for people in their 20s and 30s.

If we add good jobs in Chautauqua County workers will stay here or come here to fill those jobs. New jobs are the only answer to our County’s continuing population and economic decline.

With the right leadership and vision Chautauqua County also could grow our economy and attract a vibrant workforce.

Some of our job losses have come as a result of companies becoming more efficient. That is the American free-market at work. An SKF MRC Bearings facility that once employed 1,000 maybe now employs 500. A TitanX (now owned by Tata Motors of India) that once employed 550 maybe now employs 250. That is not the County’s fault.

The County’s fault lies in not having large industrial/business parks ready for new and expanded businesses in the Greater Jamestown area and in the Dunkirk/Fredonia/Sheridan/Hanover areas.

Recently the County is sending signals that, at long last, it will be acquiring lands for industrial/business development. That would be good news, with caveats.

First, before any lands can be developed the County must go through the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), a difficult and thorough process. The SEQRA process may identify wetlands issues or ground contamination that must be remedied, at great expense, before the land can be used.

Second, the lands must be zoned properly for industrial/commercial uses. The County will obey town set-back and other zoning requirements limiting how much of the land can be used.

Third, access roads, sewer and water lines, storm sewers, gas lines, electrical service, and required storm water retention ponds must all be engineered and built.

This must all be done for these lands to be legitimately “shovel ready.”

Fourth, industrial/business parks generally create only 5 to 7 jobs per acre. If the County starts with a 100 acre parcel, for example, the useable acreage may shrink to 70 acres. Hopefully something like 350 jobs might ultimately be created in that scenario.

All of these challenges were met by some County administrations in the past. They can be met again but it requires a lot more work than just handing out low interest loans and PILOTS.

Job creation is plain and simple hard work.

Fred Larson was Chautauqua County Attorney from 1998-2005, Industrial Parks Task Force member from 1998-2001 and a Chautauqua County Legislator from 1986-1994 and in 2014.


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