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Focused growth helps fortify local economies

Three-County Focus: Livingston, Ontario & Wayne
Focused growth helps fortify local economies

For economic-development officials in Ontario, Livingston and Wayne counties, the challenge is the same: helping their communities to thrive no matter which way the national economic winds blow.
These counties are not impervious to broader economic trends and they cannot predict the whims of big business. But development officials believe they can shape their destiny by fostering strategic growth.
Diversification is the key, says Michael Manikowski, director of the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency and Office of Economic Development.
“We want growth that is resilient,” he adds.
Manikowski’s blueprint for growth mirrors that of his county’s neighbors: minimize the impact of external factors on the local economy by strengthening its indigenous businesses, upgrading the region’s work force and infrastructure, and maximizing local and state resources.
The following is an overview of those strategies at work:
Ontario County
Collaboration was key in the city of Geneva’s successful bid to land New York’s biggest industrial catch in 25 years. Guardian Industries Corp., a leading manufacturer of flat glass for auto and construction industries, last year chose Geneva as the site for a 700,000- square-foot facility.
Geneva, New York State Electric & Gas Corp., Ontario County and the state worked together to create an incentive package that beat out stiff competition from other Northeastern states, says Richard Rising, director of Geneva’s Department of Planning and Economic Development.
Construction, which began in March, alone will pour $130 million into the area. The glass plant is expected to employ some 250 workers when manufacturing begins. Rising estimates 500 secondary jobs will result from spin-off services that the plant will require.
The county’s non-farm employment in 1995 totaled 39,200. In May, its jobless rate was 3.8 percent, compared with 4.4 percent a year ago and 3.8 percent for the Rochester metropolitan area.
Over the past several years, Ontario County has been beefing up its efforts to maximize its resources to attract industries.
Along with five other industrial development agencies, Ontario County’s IDA bought 118 miles of track from Conrail in 1995. The agencies lease operation of the track to the Finger Lakes Railway Corp.
Meanwhile, the Ontario County Airport opened last July. Construction for the 3,200-foot runway and the 12,000- square-foot terminal began in early 1994. The Ontario County IDA is the only industrial development agency in New York to own an airport, Manikowski notes.
When the Guardian plant is completed the glass manufacturer will become one of the county’s top employers. Others are Tenneco Packaging-Specialty Products Division (800 workers) and Zotos International Inc. (300 full-time and 100 part- time employees).
Seneca Foods Corp., another leading employer, expanded its facilities when it acquired the production of Green Giant vegetables from the Pillsbury Co. in 1994.
The county’s focus, Manikowski says, is to strengthen its base of high-quality manufacturing firms. One way to do that, he says, is to empower the roughly 100 small manufacturers through “internal harvesting.”
That means forming clusters of firms to work cooperatively instead of in isolation. For example, he says, machine-tool or food-processor suppliers could potentially reduce their costs of materials or electrical power by purchasing them collectively.
Livingston County
For Patrick Rountree, economic growth does not necessarily mean recruiting outside companies.
“Retention has been my No. 1 objective,” the director of Livingston County Economic Development says. The county has not seen a major employer leave since Rountree opened the office in 1988.
But it has weathered a few close calls.
The history of Kraft Foods Inc. in Avon shows how local economies are at risk in cases of corporate consolidation and downsizing, where “we’re either a winner or a loser,” Rountree says.
Kraft employed as many as 800 people at the Avon plant in the mid-1980s. However, a significant number of jobs were lost when the Birds Eye Division closed in 1986.
When Kraft decided to shut down its Pudding Pops line in 1993, nearly half of the remaining 300 jobs were lost. For two more years, Kraft’s Cool Whip facility was in serious danger of closing as well, Rountree notes.
But after lobbying by local and county officials, Kraft in 1995 made the Avon plant the sole manufacturing site for its Cool Whip line. The Oscar Mayer Lunchables Division was added last year, producing another 170 jobs and boosting the employment level to approximately 440.
Countywide, non-farm employment totaled 18,200 in 1995. Its jobless rate in May was 5.1 percent, down from 5.7 percent a year earlier.
Though competition to attract industries has increased, Rountree says his mission is much broader.
“The public impression (of development offices) is that we’re always trying to get new jobs,” he says.
In reality, Rountree spends a large proportion of his time on educating business owners and employees on issues pertaining to development, such as investment and competition.
The county faced another potentially serious setback when Akzo Nobel Salt Inc.’s Retsof salt mine, one of the largest in the world, flooded and collapsed. The site employed some 325 people.
After lengthy negotiations and a change in ownership, Rochester-based American Rock Salt Co. LLC now will take over development of a salt mine at the Hampton Corners site in Livingston County. American Rock Salt in May received federal approval for construction, Rountree says.
Attention also has been focused on shortcomings in the county’s water and sewer lines. The county established an economic-development infrastructure fund using a portion of its 7 percent sales tax. The fund has grown to $3 million since its inception in 1993.
Location both helps and hurts Living-ston County’s economy. Its proximity to I-390 is an advantage, but neighboring Henrietta–a major retail center with Marketplace Mall and other outlets– draws sales-tax revenues away from county coffers.
Similarly, the need to strike a balance between development and preservation poses challenges. Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other retailers found a home near Geneseo in 1993, but not without opposition from preservation-minded residents.
For Rountree, the giant plaza represented “an opportunity to recapture some of the county’s spending dollars.” Rountree says the county’s sales-tax revenues have increased 25 percent since the plaza opened.
Wayne County
The strength of Wayne County is its diverse landscape, says Barbara Harper director of the Wayne Economic Development Corp.
“(It) is so varied,” she says. “There are fairly isolated spots on the eastern end (that mean) we can attract industries that nobody else would.”
That section of the county has experienced a 3 percent growth in population in the last 10 years, she estimates.
On the western end, towns such as Macedon and Walworth continue to grow at a brisk clip. The population of Walworth grew 30 percent over a 10-year period to reach 6,970 in 1990. The town now has roughly 8,500 residents, officials say.
“From my perspective, (the growth) has created some traffic problems, especially on Route 31,” Harper says.
Local officials are examining development with an eye toward the future. The town of Macedon is developing a master plan for the community, says Supervisor Art Ainsworth, who notes that approximately 40 homes are built each year.
Wayne County has 10 industrial parks. The development office is looking for a tenant to fill a vacancy at Stuart Park in Newark. The 213-acre site once was occupied by C.H. Stuart Co., a consumer-products manufacturer that closed in the late 1970s.
The county’s biggest employers, Harper says, are IEC Electronics Corp., which employs 1,300 in Newark; Garlock Inc., with 800 workers in Palmyra; Parker Hannifin Corp., with 720 employees in Clyde and Lyons; and Seneca Foods, with 180 regular and 350 seasonal workers in Marion, Newark and East Williamson.
Total non-farm employment in 1995 was 28,800. The county’s jobless rate fell from 5.5 percent in May 1996 to 4.5 percent a year later.
The latest addition is a Rochester distributor and packaging company, which is moving to Macedon. Ground-breaking for Morris Rosenbloom Co. is slated for mid-July. The firm employs some 65 workers and expects to add 70 jobs with the move.
Before manufacturing sites and large industrial parks arrived in Wayne County there were farms–a point that the Wayne Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board hopes will not be forgotten. In fact, Wayne County ranks second statewide in terms of revenues from agriculture, producing $108 million last year, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets.
The county’s board of supervisors approved the Farmland Protection Plan this month. The plan, which has been a three-year work in progress, was developed by the protection board and provides specific steps to preserve the county’s farmland and agricultural enterprises.
“We’re not in a position to impose,” says Elizabeth Henderson, owner of a 60-acre organic vegetable farm. The plan, she explains, is about options, awareness and resources.
“It provides options that perhaps (people) have not yet considered. (For example), if you do this, you’re more likely to preserve farms, and if you do this, you’re not,” says Henderson, who also is a member of the protection board.
The plan suggests guidelines on issues such as zoning and agricultural tourism, as well as ways farmers can increase their revenues through new enterprises or market development.
“If Wayne County wants to stay the beautiful agricultural area that it is, (this) is the moment to do something,” Henderson says.

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