Each county executive candidate has his own ideas of how to make improvements when it comes to tourism and job growth in Chautauqua County.
Ron Johnson, Democratic candidate, wants to change the leadership at the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency. Additionally, he would like to have several projects in the county’s pipeline and utilize Start-Up NY more effectively.
Vince Horrigan, Republican candidate, on the other hand, has laid out a series of initiatives aimed at strengthening the tourism economy and adding industrial jobs in the county.
Johnson said economic development is the reason he got into the county executive race.
“Being in business in this county all my adult life and serving the county, I’ve seen it in decline. It’s been in decline for quite some time, but over the last seven or eight years, it’s been in a deep decline. That concerned me, and that’s what got me in this race.”
Johnson said he sees potential employers as being frustrated with the way things currently work, and that the current administration places the blame on state mandates and the federal government.
While other counties are moving forward, Johnson said, Chautauqua County is cutting positions and services that would potentially pay dividends in the future.
“As a business owner, I’ve got to have a big dream,” he said. “I have a lot of big dreams, but I’ve learned early on, with this short lesson in politics, the big dream is not important. If you start to talk about the big dream, people will start to shoot at the details, ‘That will never happen,’ ‘You can never make this happen.’ I realize that’s not where we want to go. We want to go to the other part of management, ‘What are you going to do the first week?’ ‘What are you going to do the first month?'”
The first thing on Johnson’s list is changing the leadership at the CCIDA. According to Johnson, the CCIDA has been spending too much money without getting the results expected of it.
“I don’t want anybody to misinterpret that I have any problem with the IDA board,” Johnson said. “There are people that have been working hard for the county. They’ve been doing the job that they’ve been asked to do, and they’ve been doing it well. The problem is, I’ve also learned that any board is only as good as the materials they’ve been given to work with. I believe we need new leadership and new thinking in the head of the IDA.”
Additionally, Johnson wants an immediate analysis done of all potential economic development sites in Chautauqua County. He wants the sites cataloged, wants to know what needs to be invested in order to make the sites usable, and he wants to use those items in order to market areas of development. Johnson also wants to get better at working with local, state and federal partners.
“The local partners know where the areas of development are,” Johnson said. “They know what they need. They need to be listened to, and they need to be at the table. We need to empower our partners to be able to do something, and I think the county being the facilitator in that job is going to allow us to move forward.”
In addition to this, Johnson said he will have projects in the pipeline for the next round of the governor’s Regional Economic Development Council funding, as well as projects for Southern Tier West Funding. Doing so, Johnson said, will elevate the county’s presence in each body.
Finally, Johnson wants to utilize Start-Up NY, examine the feasibility of industrial business technology parks, and especially focus on agri-business and possibly a tech center in the future.
Horrigan has several ideas on growing the economy and jobs in the county, starting with growing the year-round tourism aspect. He recently led an effort in the Chautauqua County Legislature to increase bed tax funding to snowmobile trails, succeeding in securing an additional $20,000.
He also said he would like to focus on the Lake Erie wine belt, and find a better way to handle bus tours and the amount of people attending wine tours. Additionally, Horrigan mentioned the amount of people who visit the county for fishing competitions.
“My point is, there is an awful lot of good things going on in the tourism industry. As county executive, I’m going to continue to engage the Army Corps of Engineers to help dredging Cattaraugus Creek, Sunset Bay, Dunkirk Harbor and Barcelona for recreational and commercial fishing.”
Horrigan also promised to continue working hard to support the Lake Erie Management Consortium.
“We need a unified structure to be able to go after the larger grants and foundation funding in order to implement the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation plan,” he said. “Chautauqua Lake is ready to go, but we’ve got to get the permits and get that done. That’s what I’ll work on.”
Horrigan also announced two different campaigns. The first is a “Host Them Here” campaign.
“Host Them Here is every nonprofit, I want to challenge to conduct a regional or state conference in Chautauqua County,” Horrigan said. “Bring them here. Yes, we’ve got to fight some of the transportational issues, but I believe we can have some seed money from the IDA for a revolving loan fund to Host Them Here.”
The second campaign is a “Bring Them Home” campaign, aimed at bringing young people back to Chautauqua County after college.
Also proposed by Horrigan is an ambassador program, aimed at hospitality programs in Chautauqua County.
“People come here and they go to our hotels, they go to our different hospitality venues. I want to provide an online training program and a recognition program through the chamber, where our people can be recognized for great customer services. That is a challenge for some areas.”
The success of the program, Horrigan said, would be measured through tourism job growth.
Horrigan pointed out the New York State Department of Labor has statistics showing job losses began in 2009. He said Chautauqua County has lost around 3,000 jobs, a figure he wants to turn around.
“I’m going to focus on our existing top 100 businesses,” Horrigan said. “I’m going to look at the ones with the greatest potential for job growth. I’m going to put together with our revolving loan fund incentives and opportunities with academic, marketing, technology and investment.”
He also wants to market business investment to seasonal property owners, the people who own second homes in Chautauqua County.
“These are CEOs, CFOs, many of them of larger companies in Cleveland and Pittsburgh,” Horrigan said. “I want them not only to play here, I want them to invest here. I’m going to use Start-Up NY as an incentive to say, ‘Look at a spinoff start-up company with incentives, tax incentives from Start-Up NY to be able to come and invest in Chautauqua County.’ That’s how we’ll market it.”
In order to do that, though, Horrigan acknowledged needing a qualified workforce. He said 3,500 jobs will be opening in manufacturing over the next five years, however having people ready to move into those jobs is a problem in the county. The solution lies in working on job-readiness training, work experience training, and working on skill through an Employability Coalition.
When it comes to attracting manufacturers in Chautauqua County, Horrigan argued that new buildings cannot be built, that the county must market what it currently has available.
Johnson, on the other hand, argued that the county cannot passively wait for a business to show up, that it must be aggressive in its search.
“That’s where we have an honest difference of opinion,” Johnson said. “That is, I think, what separates us. The county has a rare opportunity that they’ve got two qualified individuals running for office, which I think is a good thing for Chautauqua County.”