ONEONTA, N.Y.-- The push for more economic development is frequent in Otsego County, and the pressure to bring new things into the region is constant.
Leaders from the area are brainstorming ways to bring 'new' in, while improving the current attributes that serve Otsego County well.
"We do have the things that everyone wants now, walkable villages with medical centers, colleges, cultural resources," Jeff Katz, former mayor of Cooperstown said.
"There are 7,000 college students in our community," Oneonta mayor Gary Herzig said. "They bring energy, they bring entrepreneurism, they bring innovation."
At a Thursday night panel discussion at SUNY Oneonta, several Otsego County leaders met to discuss ways to bring more economic vitality to a region that's gradually grown depressed.
"I'm a big believer that when the public infrastructure is improved, it sends a message that if the government cares about what's happening, then there is kind of a little more energy for private investment," Katz said. "There are things Cooperstown does very well and there are things Oneonta does well. Instead of trying to fight to grab each other's things, let's help each other bolster the things we do well and you know, hopefully that has spillover to the county. The status quo that everyone says they like produced a really kind of depressed county."
"Nobody wants to move to a community that doesn't have an exciting vibrant downtown with a lot of cool things happening," Herzig said. "You're not going to get employers, you're not going to get employees wanting to move to a community that doesn't have that. So, having a vital, vibrant downtown is so important before you can even start to build your economy."
The president of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce stressed the importance of extending the successes from the Oneonta-Cooperstown corridor to the surrounding communities.
"Oneonta, being the largest city in almost a 60-mile radius, really is an economic driver for people to come to enjoy entertainment, activities and culture," Barbara Ann Heegan, president of the Otsego County Chamber said.
At the panel, Heegan discussed an upcoming Opportunity Conference, designed to connect people in poverty throughout the entire county with resources to help them grow.
"Looking at all of us, as community members to be navigators, to take our skills and our talents to help people climb out of poverty," Heegan said.
The Opportunity Conference is May 12 at the Oneonta Holiday Inn. The panelists also discussed holding local job fairs to help unemployed people find work in Otsego County and involving college students and their intellectual pursuits in the community.
One presenter made a case for why these ideas are an important investment for the long term.
"Very slow, but still some population growth," said Dr. Alex Thomas, the head of SUNY Oneonta's sociology department. "We actually have some real potential, probably, for some more when we look over very long spans of time, 30 years, 40 years."
Thomas, who specializes in urban sociology, claims the high population density downstate could translate into more people moving to Otsego County.
"There's population pressures in the south that will probably move north," Thomas said. "What's probably important is for us to start planning for that now."
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