By Andrew Harris
Allegany County Legislator Debra Root is the Chair of the Planning and Economic Development committee and was recently re-elected by District 3 voters with a wide margin. When the 2022 county budget was finalized last month, one line item stood out: A $7.5 million dollar investment in economic development. As we started asking about this unparalleled spending, all roads led to Mrs. Root. Because this initiative is largely due to her efforts and skill in the board room, we asked “Deb” to give readers some insight.
Wellsville Sun: How historic is this investment in Allegany County ED ? Compared to when you first took office ?
Let me start by saying that I think this is a big step in the right direction for economic development in Allegany County. The County legislators made a strategic investment in 2012 of approximately $ 3.5 million into the Waterline project prior to my coming on the board in 2013 and they had also identified the RT.19 Corridor as an important strategic area for future economic development in Allegany County. The Allegany County IDA (ACIDA) built the waterline through the support of the county. This project was just completed and resulted in the establishment of the new Quicklee’s travel center. The county is already seeing the benefits of that investment with increased sales tax revenue and activity at that interchange off I-86.
WS: Is this a one time investment or a new level of annual spending ?
The 7.5M is based on a proposed project. The money is committed and is to be used over the life of any identified project or projects and this commitment can be increased at any time by Board resolution.
WS: Where should taxpayers look for this investment to actually manifest? Hard infrastructure ? Human assets? Billboards in the city?
In our (the board’s) ongoing discussions with Dr. Craig Clark, who directs our Economic Development efforts for the county, he pointed out that the one project that would have the largest and perhaps the quickest return on the invest and a trickle down effect (such as restaurants) would be to develop a site-ready location at the Cross Roads for a future Hotel.
As we (the county) have learned from working with Site Selectors in the past, and recent projects, businesses are more apt to choose a location that is shovel ready for their organization to come in and set up shop. The ACIDA had a proposed plan for this site which included site plans, engineering drawings, estimated costs and estimated timeline, which was key for the board’s decision to support this project and make this commitment.
WS: An investment this size doesn’t happen without major efforts behind the scenes. You are considered the “driving force,” but who else deserves the credit for pushing this through the finish line ?
This sitting board has been very supportive of economic development as a whole for the course of this term. Timing is everything. The last two years we have been dealing with the unknowns of the Covid pandemic and the year prior to that, we were dealing with possible cut backs from the State which impacted our budget by having to make reductions in the operating budget. Fast forward to this year, where the county received ARP monies and our revenues from the State were restored and lessons learned from recent economic development activities made it the right time to make this commitment to economic development.
WS: Allegany County has taken tourism back as a government operation after a few years under contract with the private sector. How do taxpayer dollars stack up after that change? Are we increasing the tourism budget and what will that increase pay for?
Funding for “tourism” will remain the same. There are no new costs to the county for the implementation of these efforts.
A couple of years ago the county embarked on a new branding initiative that resulted in the “Western New York Wilds” brand. The county’s Economic Development team developed and is implementing an Integrated Marketing Communications plan. A IMC plan is an approach to creating a unified and seamless brand experience for targeted audiences across all media platforms.
The benefits of an IMC are: improved results; Improved Brand Image; Cost Effectiveness; Improved Efficiency; Reduced Confusion; and Maintained Focus.
WS: How much of this push to drive ED in Allegany County is in response to the “Great-Lakes Cheese Incident?” Will we start to move toward making possible sites ‘shovel-ready’?
As chair of the Planning & Development Committee I was pleased to make the motion and to have Legislator Judy Hopkins make the second for this resolution. If you happen to listen to our meetings on Facebook, you may have heard discussions that referred to the “Hopkins” plan. This plan refers to Legislator Ted Hopkins, who served as Chair of the P&D committee and had the foresight to championed investment into Economic Development throughout his ten years on the board. This resolution brings us one step closer to Ted’s vision for economic development in Allegany County. As I mentioned earlier, timing is everything, in the words of Pete Seeger, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose.“