Chautauqua County Deserves Better

Recently Democratic candidate for County Executive Ron Johnson made some unfortunate statements regarding our County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA) in a press release. I characterize the statements as unfortunate, because the press release is actually a scathing self-indictment by Mr. Johnson. Whenever anyone, particularly someone trying to earn the public’s trust, intentionally misleads them the act is very telling.

As County Executive, you must deal with and understand complex issues and clearly and accurately convey essential information to the people and businesses of the County. This obligation requires digging deep into the numbers and the facts to understand what they represent so that good decisions can be made when dealing with a $230 million budget and representing the 134,232 people and vast array of businesses in Chautauqua County. Our people and our businesses cannot afford to have a person who is either not able or willingly neglects to do the necessary analysis before making public statements. This press release was clearly a poorly constructed political attack on the CCIDA. This press release quoted data from a New York State Comptroller’s Report as it asserted that our CCIDA had “Administrative Expenses” of over $1.2 million at an expense of $2,226 per job gained, while comparing that calculation to the Cattaraugus IDA who only spent $243 per job gained.

The allegations made by Ron Johnson demonstrate the candidate’s self-indictment for his failure to understand simple accounting or his desire to intentionally mislead our voters.

First, the correct term from that very report was “Operating Expenses” not administrative expenses, and yes, the number was $1.2 million. However, for our IDA those operating expenses include accounting for non-cash expenses like the $300,000 loan set aside as a reserve for the loan funds, $123,000 of depreciation expenses, and $70,000 of interest expense on the industrial park bonds, plus many other items. The candidate compared this expense to Cattaraugus County in an effort to indict CCIDA for its expense, with no idea of context or again in an attempt to mislead. Let’s compare CCIDA to the Cattaraugus County IDA: Chautauqua County has 134,232 residents, administers 3 industrial parks (with 15 businesses and over 800 employees), manages 180,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing and office space, and manages two revolving loans funds of over $12 million with 70 active loans. The Cattaraugus County IDA has 79,832 residents, administers no industrial parks, leases one small office, and manages no revolving loan funds.

In addition, the report did not add all the jobs that are gained from our County IDA’s loan funds, industrial park tenants, outreach programs or the many other services we offer that Cattaraugus County does not invest in, since the report only counted jobs from bonds, tax leases, and PILOTS. If the candidate had desired to be accurate instead of mislead, he would have been required to acknowledge that our IDA invests in a large number of job and business support activities that our neighbors simply do not.

Equally damning evidence of this candidate’s willingness to mislead is his implication that the CCIDA was responsible for the job losses at Petri, SYSCO, Crawford, Carriage House, and Keywell. A real businessman or an honest analysis would reveal that the CCIDA and the County Executive have worked closely with the local owners/operators of Petri and Carriage House over the past several years on numerous occasions. What happened in each case was that after these businesses were sold the new non-resident management, far away from our county, made decisions to downsize or relocate operations. SYSCO abruptly, without any warning, consolidated their operations from Falconer to Pittsburgh. The IDA stepped in and acquired their building to secure it as an asset for development, setting the stage for an extraordinary effort by the CCIDA that resulted in the saving of 145 jobs at Maplevale Farms when their plant collapsed and they were moved into the SYSCO building. They have 170 employees there today. Crawford was a family business that ran into insurmountable financial problems. Keywell is the clearest example of the questionable acts of this candidate because up to and through this summer Keywell was expanding into a large site in Falconer adding over 80,000 square feet of operations there. This was after the CCIDA and County Executive had visited with their corporate leaders from Chicago to pitch the value of our county and expansion capacities. Severe financial issues with other Keywell operations across the nation have sadly impacted 49 employees at the Frewsburg plant, not over 100 as alleged by the candidate. Our IDA is continuing to work with Keywell corporate leadership in Chicago to secure the Falconer jobs.

There are many important leadership positions in Chautauqua County both in the private sector and as County Executive. Each of these positions require leaders who are willing to invest themselves to understand the facts, understand the implication of their statements, and to commit to fairly and accurately present the issues for the benefit of everyone who lives and does business in this County. This candidate, through his own public statements, has failed to demonstrate his ability to deliver on any of these essential traits of leadership.