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Abundance of water likely to play vital role in growth

Water has become a common topic in economic development circles, as officials woo prospective businesses. But actively marketing water as a resource has yet to gain steam locally.
Monroe County Water Authority board member Joseph Rulison considers the water supply here a vital economic development tool. Water is rushing toward becoming the oil of tomorrow, in terms of value and demand, and has the potential to fire up the local economy, he says.
“We have a resource that’s becoming more scarce in other parts of the country but is very abundant here,” says Rulison, who also is market president of the Rochester region at Bank of America Corp. and the former chairman of the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency.
Though Monroe County has not yet launched a specific marketing campaign to promote the water supply, officials say they routinely mention water when courting prospective businesses.
“We recognize it as a great resource,” says Judith Seil, director of the Monroe County Department of Planning and Development.
Despite the absence of specific water marketing campaigns in the immediate area, Upstate New York has a history of attracting water-dependent firms, including many of the roughly 100 food and beverage manufacturers now in Rochester. Genesee Brewing Co., for example, set up here more than a century ago partly because of available water. High Falls Brewing Co. LLC, Genesee’s successor, remains water-reliant, though it is now in a restructuring plan with Monroe County and the city of Rochester to pay its past water and sewer charges.
Counties near Monroe say they experience varying degrees of interest in water resources from prospective firms. Livingston County Industrial Development Agency executive director Patrick Rountree, for one, says he often fields water questions from leads generated by New York State and Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc.
Michael Manikowski, director of Ontario County Industrial Development Agency, prospective businesses asking questions about water.
“They are much more interested in work force, broadband, quality of schools, costs and incentives,” he says, adding that his office does not have a specific plan in place to market water.
The Wayne County Industrial Development Agency does not have a specific plan to market the resource either, says Margaret Churchill, executive director. Yet water infrastructure improvement continues to be a priority, she says. The Wayne Water and Sewer Authority brought the 500,000-gallons-per-day treatment facility on line in Wolcott in 2006.
Water has become a hot-button issue across the nation, particularly in the Southeast and West. Atlanta, for example, had less than a 90-day supply of water last October when the Lake Lanier reservoir in north Georgia fell far below capacity. Georgia now is in a drought classified by state officials as extreme, due to low rainfall and a history of diverting water to Florida.
New York State has made strides to avoid a similar fate. In mid-March, Gov. David Paterson announced the signing of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, an agreement among eight Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed the legislation before resigning.
More than seven years in the making, the compact calls for an end to most new and increased water diversions from the basin, while preserving existing re-routings and uses. The basin and its related bays and tributaries contain roughly 18 percent of the world’s fresh water.
“Unfortunately, water levels in the Great Lakes have seen drastic declines in the last decade, and it is vitally important that we protect and conserve this essential water resource,” Paterson said last month.
In late March, Paterson also requested that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ask the International Joint Commission to reshape its plan to regulate water flow from Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence River. The commission maintains that the plan recognizes hydropower and navigation interests, while the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says the plan will harm wetlands.
Niagara County, to Rochester’s west, and Onondaga County, to Rochester’s east, have both embarked on water marketing campaigns. Officials say the efforts are going well.
Hoping to lure business away from “parched” states, the Niagara County Center for Economic Development began marketing its water resources to southern states in January. Economic development commissioner Samuel Ferraro says he hopes to coax at least 25 firms from Georgia, Alabama, Florida and elsewhere to relocate or expand their operations to the area.
Assisted by a marketing consultant, the county’s $83,000 campaign plan calls for attending industrial trade shows, conducting a direct-marketing campaign and advertising in the targeted states. The campaign reaches out to the chemical, hydroelectric and other industries that could draw from Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the Niagara River.
Ferraro expects no major obstacles during the campaign, other than getting the word out. That very challenge cropped up last year, when his office marketed com-mercial real estate to Canadian firms.
“We found that Canadians were not familiar with the availability of raw land and existing buildings (here),” says Ferraro, who also is executive director of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency. “I’m anticipating that we could encounter the same problem.”
Far smaller than Monroe County, Niagara County has roughly 215,000 residents, according to the 2007 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. Some of its major employers are the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel, Delphi Corp., Niagara Falls Air Reserve and the county itself.
The Syracuse Economic Growth Council launched its water marketing efforts in January, through an advertising blitz aimed at the food and beverage firms and direct mail to various industries. Managed by the Onondaga County Economic Development Office, the campaign coincides with the marketing of the 250-acre IDA-owned Clay Business Park, nine miles from Syracuse’s airport.
Gregory Hitchin, business development manager for the Onondaga County Economic Development Office, says Clay Business Park has access to 8 million gallons of inexpensive Lake Ontario water per day-a boon to any water-dependent industry.
“The goal of this initiative is to generate awareness of our resources, drive inquiries to the Web site and provide an opportunity for us to follow up,” he says.
Hitchin says he is bullish about the campaign’s potential, particularly because the resource itself is abundant, reliable and high quality.
“Our ability to provide that resource is a plus,” he says.
Onondaga County has roughly 454,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some of its major employers are the State University of New York Medical University, Syracuse University and Wegmans Food Markets Inc.
Monroe County Water Authority’s Rulison says capitalizing on water’s value means making sure infrastructure is in tip-top shape. To that end, he strongly supports the Water Authority’s plan to build a new 50 million-gallons-per-day treatment plant in Webster.
“You have to have the infrastructure to bring business to us,” he says.
Yet the plan for the $128 million plant has drawn some consternation. Environmental groups and others have questioned its need, given that Monroe County’s population growth has cooled.
Rulison expects water to grow even more attractive as an economic development tool for Upstate New York, given ongoing drought conditions in the South and West.
“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

04/11/08 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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