Local officials seek economic development ideas

By Julia Green
A relatively small crowd turned out in Arkville on Saturday morning to provide public input on a Regional Economic Development and Community Revitalization Strategy for the towns of Andes, Middletown, Olive, Roxbury and Shandaken.

The objective of the plan is to help the region capitalize on natural, agricultural and recreational assets of the communities to create an action plan for sustainable economic development.
The effort is collaboration between the municipalities, the MARK Project, and the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and is funded by the NYS Department of State with additional funds from the Catskill Watershed Corporation.

Saturday’s meeting was one in a series of seven held in all involved municipalities that aim to identify community priorities through public input.

“This is not a regional council initiative; this is a Department of State initiative that was formed before regional councils were even developed and people are confusing the two,” said MARK Executive Director Peg Ellsworth. “This is a study, not a project. It’s not anyone identifying what we should be doing but making recommendations for us to look at as a region and individual communities and see where we can take that.”

Nan Stolzenburg, a consultant with Community Planning & Environmental Associates, which is assisting in the development of the plan, was on hand at Saturday’s meeting to hear feedback from the public and to provide a brief overview of the process.

“The goal is to expand on previous efforts and on the work already done,” Stolzenburg said. She added that over the course of the past ten to 15 years, 52 plans have been drafted with varying degrees of resultant implementation and coordination.

Updating past efforts
“This is really a project where we’re building on past efforts,” she said, adding that the point is to work on one’s own community needs while working together with other communities.

Community members were asked to consider a number of priorities that have already been identified and to provide feedback to rank those concerns as well as to offer others that may not have been included. Among the most pressing issues to the majority were: including agriculture as a significant sector in economic development programs; working with telecommunications and utility providers to extend broadband Internet service and cell phone service to areas that are currently underserved; establishing a regional economic development marketing organization to develop and implement an economic development marketing and branding strategy; and develop an inventory of vacant and underutilized buildings and businesses for sale to be used to attract entrepreneurs and investors to the region.

Concerns were also voiced regarding restaurants, recreational opportunities, and the lack of lodging for visitors to the area.

Cell tower issues
“The cell tower is a big issue,” Ellsworth acknowledged. “And I think to brand the region as a whole will be important to define how we are viewed by external visitors, and that’s interwoven with broadband.
“It’s got to be technology-based,” she added, citing the popularity among tourists of smart phone apps in particular.
Overall, many attendees highlighted local community needs – specifically, employment, affordable housing, and health care and human services for year-round residents.
“A lot of people are struggling, and we need to acknowledge the needs of the people who have been here for generations,” said one community member.
It was also suggested that affordable housing is not adequately represented in the current list of priorities, and that such an inclusion should be made in addition to incorporating a plan to combine services to address the needs of seniors and those with disabilities and a strategy to meet transportation needs of both local residents and visitors.
The final opportunity for residents to provide input on the action plan for economic development will be tonight at 6 p.m. at the Roxbury Town Hall.

Changes will continue
“At the end of the day, it’s important to note that this is not the end of the process,” Ellsworth said. “We’re trying to create a live document that changes with each individual community but connects the region as a whole.”
She added that the majority of feedback from the meetings has been positive.
“People understand the common threads between these five towns and two villages and do at the end of the day want to see the region not only sustain itself but thrive. And if nothing else is done, just to identify the fact that we all have common threads is I think a benefit to the region,” Ellsworth commented.