On Thursday, October 6, 2011 Leadership Allegany students attended an economic development session in Alfred, NY. The first panel of the morning included speakers Curt Crandall, Chair of the Allegany County Board of Legislators, Fred Sinclair, Allegany County Legislator and Chair of the Planning and Economic Development Committee, and John Foels, Executive Director of the Allegany County Industrial Development Agency. Panelists explained the purpose of the Western New York Economic Development Council, recently appointed by the New York State governor. The WNYEDC repurposed state funds to focus more heavily on job creation and development initiatives with a pool of money coming to our local community. All projects proposed to the state will be scored with twenty percent of the scoring coming from the local councils. Our local council representing several counties of WNY includes Allegany County representation and is proposing projects to be funded that will directly support economic development in our particular region. The panelists also discussed ways in which our leadership in Allegany County addresses economic development issues with an eye toward growth. The current Planning and Economic Development Committee looks at initiatives including energy, communication, and technical opportunities that will draw professionals to the area. A full-time planner employed by the county works closely with committees and with the county chamber for tourism and to implement the Comprehensive Plan. The Legislative Board has stepped up employment and training opportunities. They have also supported numerous projects in Allegany County, such as the Southern Tier West wireless project which has put up several wireless towers across the Northern part of Allegany County. They are looking at a project in which fiber optic cable will run under the wireless network. They are supporting the expansion of Cuba Hospital to include an assisted and independent living facility, condo's and possibly a hotel at Swain Ski Resort, and a water line extension in Wellsville, to name a few. Perhaps most exciting is plans to develop the I86 Exit near Belmont, which is the only undeveloped exit between Erie and Bath. The Board of Legislators and IDA are in conversations regarding acquisition of property, development of a water line, and creation of a hotel by a private investor - something desperately needed in Allegany County. All three panelists agreed on some of the challenges to economic development in Allegany County. Legislator Sinclair said that we need a new outlook on the use of tax dollars, going from a viewpoint of spending toward investing. Chairman Crandall said that he wants to eliminate the myth that Allegany County has nothing to offer and that we are poverty-stricken. He countered that Allegany County can be seen as a rich area because of the quality of life, something very saleable to outsiders. Chairman Crandall also pointed out that in recent years the county went from serious debt to maintaining a $14 million reserve fund - $10 million of which must be kept on hand to maintain a healthy bond rating. The second speakers of the day were Director of Tourism Michael Burke and Executive Director of the Greater Allegany County Chamber of Commerce Christina Hedstrom. Burke and Hedstrom shared an interesting slide show showcasing many of the outstanding attractions that make Allegany County so special. Burke contended that some of our toughest customers are our own residents in Allegany County who maintain a more pessimistic attitude about what we offer. He suggested the slogan, "Allegany By Choice!" In other words, we live here because of all the positive elements of Allegany County: quality of life, good schools, low traffic, low cost of living, well maintained roads, easy access to the interstate, and low crime. Lastly, the Leadership Allegany group headed down into the village to hear from Virginia Rasumussen, Alfred Village Board, and Mandy Burns, Grant Writer, to talk about grass roots efforts that can be taken on by small communities. Rasmussen shared that most villages do not have an economic development planner and that kind of work is often left to businesses or to a local chamber of commerce. It takes volunteerism and deliberate effort to explore economic development opportunities. The Village developed a comprehensive plan with specific action areas and engaged volunteers through Alfred Alive to support implementation. Alfred Alive drew 40 people to the first meeting with a focus on economic development, programming and marketing, and sustainability. Also in existence was the Alfred 21st Century Group, a non-profit entity with a focus on restoring and selling homes by utilizing local Alfred State College trades students for restorations. Later, Burns was seeking an internship for school and decided to take on the application process for a New York Main Street grant. She researched other successful grants and conducted a needs assessment, before writing the proposal. Burns helped Alfred to win $325,000 through the NY Main Street program. They hired a grant administrator and began engaging local business on projects. Much of the work can be seen and will continue to be conducted throughout Alfred's downtown over the next year. Burn's parting words to anyone interesting in taking on these kinds of initiatives were, "Do not be discouraged. You will hit walls. You will face challenges; but is is worth it!"
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