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Saratoga: a New Golden Age?
SEDC and the Partnership See Great Promise in County’s Future
This is the second in a three-part series on economic development in Saratoga County. The first in the series, "Taxpayers Triple Down on Saratoga," can be read here.
SARATOGA COUNTY – While the rest of the nation is still pulling slowly out of the Great Recession, Saratoga County has been holding its own and growing.
According to Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the prognosis and outlook is good. “Last year was one of the first years since I have been here that everyone around the table [local CEO’s] expected growth. Anecdotally, I think every sector I’m aware of saw job growth.”
Dennis Brobston, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), a nonprofit 501(c)3, agrees. “Saratoga County is known in upstate New York as one of the best counties for economic development,” said Brobston, who has been dedicated to growing the local economy for over three decades. “It has one of the lowest unemployment rates across the state across all sectors, and is in the top three fastest growing. You can see it in the boom of jobs, housing, low county taxes and more. We’re really blessed we have such great product to sell [Saratoga County], and there are plenty of ancillary jobs created because of what we do.”
Marty Vanags, president of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, is also working to build on the strengths of the county to multiply the economic development efforts here. The Partnership’s Saratoga Strategic Plan is focused on four main objectives:
First, the Partnership will engage in a proactive, targeted and collaborative campaign to attract new business to Saratoga County in key clusters and industries, including: Advanced Manufacturing; Agriculture; Financial Business Process Outsourcing; Research and Development; and Specialized Distribution. According to Vanags, he intends to bring trade shows here so CEO’s can experience everything Saratoga has to offer, and use those events to encourage them to explore staying.
Secondly, the Partnership will engage existing businesses, stakeholders, partners and other economic development agencies in an all-inclusive, multi-year Business Retention and Expansion Campaign that will help the private sector secure new jobs and capital investment in Saratoga County. Vanags will work with local partners on branding and awareness campaigns to get the news out about the benefits of the county.
The Partnership shall leverage the investment of GlobalFoundries and the presence of Luther Forest Technology Park to attract new advanced manufacturing businesses, suppliers and allied industries to increase employment and capital investment in Saratoga County. One aspect of this is an area that SEDC is working on, too, creating a supply chain to feed the work at GlobalFoundries.
The Partnership will build and expand relationships with appointed and elected officials at the local, state and federal government levels to enhance investments in Saratoga County, and the next article in this series will touch more on the impact of state and national government on our local economy.
Both the Prosperity Partnership and SEDC are providing decades of expertise and national relationships to build on the county’s current growth and tremendous economic potential.
“The role of an economic development agency is to create jobs, good paying jobs,” said Brobston. “It enables a person to live a decent life, pay bills, and contribute to the investment in a community. And, our role is to get companies to invest in the community, because that investment brings dollars in taxes which helps our schools, existing local businesses, and more.”
SEDC’s goals for the county’s future include much of what they have been working on already – encouraging businesses to locate here that provide a supply chain for GlobalFoundries; that manufacture advanced technologies like medical supplies and sensors; building on the hotbed SEDC’s created here for warehouse distribution; and working on relocating corporate headquarters here.
“Saratoga County is a wonderful place to live and have a business,” said Brobston. It offers a lot of access to the world through Boston, Montreal, Buffalo – just jump on a plane and be anywhere. Within a day’s drive of here is 54 percent of the population of North America.”
Shimkus sees a benefit to having both SEDC and the Partnership out marketing Saratoga County to industries to relocate here. “There’s so much interest in moving into Saratoga County that having two organizations selling with more feet on the street doing sales is helpful,” said Shimkus. “When you could have a lot of demand, you want to make sure you’re doing as much prospecting as possible.”
And that double-prospecting can help fill in the employment gaps that exist in the county. Brobston acknowledged that the northern end of the county has a higher unemployment rate than the southern, partly due to access to Albany and government jobs at that end of the Northway, but he foresees change for the northern end, as well. The addition of Dollar General’s new warehouse in Wilton, should that come through, would make a big difference.
“We’re a county that’s been growing a lot later than other counties,” said Brobston. “These were bedroom communities in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Saratoga Springs was a resort that was busy only five months out of the year. We’re maturing, now. We’re less transient than when GE and the paper mill were moving their employees in and out. People are staying and we’re seeing a need for senior housing like we never had before.”
Brobston described the impact of Ball Corporation, one of SEDC’s first projects. The company is celebrating retirees now, people who moved here 35 years ago due to SEDC’s efforts to relocated Ball Corporation in Saratoga Springs.
“Now we have people who want to stay because their families are here,” said Brobston. “I was here at age 27, moved away, moved back, and now I have grandkids here. I’m never leaving – first my wife would shoot me and then my grandchildren would,” he joked. “I’m not the only one. According to census estimates, the brain drain has slowed down a bit. People who’ve left are coming back. Once you add in the GlobalFoundries personnel into the numbers, we’ve got a great mix of all ages and people are staying, aging in place. We’ve never had that before, and it began with Ball. They were a great success story. We have many of those success stories. Ball, Quad Graphics, Saratoga Eagle, Ace Hardware, Delmar Thomas, all corporations from somewhere else.”
Brobston had some thoughts about how county citizens can contribute to job growth beyond showing up with welcome signs at planning board meetings. “Local residents can help by paying attention to what the world needs,” he said. “It’s okay to say if they aren’t thrilled with a new project, but also say let’s figure out a way to do this together.”
He described the proposed expansion of Saratoga Hospital as an example, saying that community could use some of the corresponding road improvements that would go along with the project, but those improvements will be slower coming without the investment dollars a hospital expansion would bring.
“Some people are worried about traffic, others are more worried about access to healthcare,” said Brobston, “but they might be afraid to speak out in fear of being ostracized. We need to be thoughtful, vocal, and positive. Be more willing to find compromise. I believe there’s hope and ways to do this. The individual is what this country was built on, and home rule is what this state was built on, but we can’t forget that what we say and do has an impact on others. It’s not always about us.”
Shimkus adds, “It’s easy to tell people to shop and go to independent local stores, but I think the bigger issue is that we need the community to always support efforts to grow the economy. You have to always be trying to create new jobs, local jobs, so there are jobs here for their kids to come back to. We can’t be complacent in Saratoga and believe we have it all. We have to always be focused on growing the economy like what SEDC and the Partnership are doing.
The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership is located at 2911 Route 9 in Malta. They can be reached at 518-871-1887. The Saratoga Economic Development Corporation is located at 28 Clinton St, Saratoga Springs and can be reached at 518-587-0945. The economic development plans for both agencies can be found on their respective websites.
Taxpayers Triple Down on Saratoga
Economic Development A Good Bet?
This is the first in a three-part series that explores taxpayers’ investment in economic development in Saratoga County.
SARATOGA COUNTY – When political strategist James Carville coined the phrase, “the economy, stupid” back in the early 90’s in answer to a question exploring top voter concerns, he could not have known it would become a standard part of the American vernacular.
Debates may rage throughout this Presidential election year on foreign policy, health care, immigration, and a variety of other important issues, but it can be arguably said that none resonate more with the average voter than how that voter will be hit in the pocketbook. That is just as true in Saratoga County as it is across the nation. People want jobs, good-paying salaries, and affordable goods and services. The glimmer of hope seen in the slow rate of the national upturn of job creation and drop in unemployment may have restored some consumer confidence, (as seen in the record sales experienced by the automobile industry in December) but a December Gallup poll showed 57 percent of Americans think the economy is “getting worse.”
Placing the Bet
The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors (the Board) understand, in no uncertain terms, that it is “the economy, stupid,” and have been making preparations to assure the county economy grows in a sustainable way in 2016 and into the future. In late spring of 2014, the Board made a decision to sever its three-decade relationship with the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and begin a new economic development agency from scratch.
For county taxpayers, this resulted in a substantial increase in allocation of their tax dollars for economic development. SEDC was paid $200,000 in 2014, but in 2015 the Board allocated $750,000 to the newly created Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership (the Partnership). That’s more than triple the prior year allocation. The Partnership did not utilize all those funds and returned the unused portion back to the County, as statute required.
State legislation that was passed last year at the request of the County authorized one-half of one percent of the County’s hotel occupancy tax to go to the Partnership in perpetuity, beginning this year. That, combined with other County revenue, will continue the $750,000 a year for the Partnership.
According to Saratoga Springs Supervisor Peter Martin, there were no tax or fee increases or existing program cuts to cover the additional half-million-dollar expense. The Board used a combination of unallocated surplus funds and increased sales tax revenues to cover the cost in 2015. The local economy was better in 2015, and consumers made more purchases, so the money was there. The Board decided it would be a good bet to reinvest that money into the economy, and additionally decided that it would increase their odds on a return by directing the money to a new economic development agency rather than give it to the existing one.
Arthur “Mo” Wright, who is currently serving his first year as chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors after nine years of representing Hadley as Town Supervisor, reiterated what other supervisors have been saying, that they didn’t feel they were seeing much in the way of results from SEDC.
“Once GlobalFoundries came in, we haven’t seen much else,” said Wright. “Marty [Vanag]’s presentation to the Saratoga Springs City Council [Tuesday, January 5] was the same as what he gave to the Supervisors, and the number one goal of the county is to work with him and support the Partnership. You can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s more to this county than just GlobalFoundries. Obviously they are a new entity and it takes a while to get staffed and up to speed, but it sounds like he’s hitting the ground running.”
Dennis Brobston, Saratoga Economic Development Corporation president, was unavailable for comment, but SEDC has recently been working to bring Dollar General to the county with a $92 million dollar warehouse project that would bring over 500 new jobs to the area. On Monday, January 11, the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) approved a package of tax incentives valued at more than $11 million to sweeten the deal against the competition. Dollar General is also weighing locations in some New England states. If that deal and others like it come through, taxpayers might wonder whether that additional half a million dollars for the Partnership might have been better spent.
The Ace in the Hole?
Marty Vanags was hired as president of the new Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership back in May of last year. He moved here from Indiana, bringing the heavy-hitting resume of an economic development veteran. According to Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch, his salary is in the neighborhood of $125,000 a year.
“He’s worth every penny,” said Veitch. “You have to understand, we didn’t create SEDC. They are an independent entity. It’s not like we can dissolve it if we feel it’s not meeting its responsibilities. The Partnership was created by statute, and even though it is formed as a nonprofit corporation and has its own board, there’s a degree of transparency there that we just weren’t getting from SEDC. This is taxpayer money, and we have to know where it is going and how it is being used. The straw that broke the camel’s back with SEDC followed a request of the Supervisors to sit on the board – given the financial contribution. When SEDC refused and frankly told us that there was some legal problem that meant they couldn’t do it, the board decided we’d go our own way to meet our needs.”
Rodney Sutton, newly elected chair of the Saratoga County IDA, said Vanags has already brought some business to the county, but is pragmatic about the fact that there are now two agencies with the same goal in the area.
“All due respect to partnership,” said Sutton, “they are the new kid on the block and we are more than willing to cooperate with the Partnership so we can work together to continue the growth of the county. They have to go out and generate activities that they think SEDC has not. That’s the capitalistic enterprise that we live in. If they can bring something to the table, that’s great. I do think over the years SEDC has done its job admirably, but things change. Our economic message could change, economic winds could be changing as we speak.”
Vanags recently announced a four-point strategy for economic development in the County. Veitch said, “In the time we’ve had Marty around, for him to come out with a strategic plan and move forward with it is huge for me. I don’t know that we’ve done anything like that in the past. Now the public knows this is our plan and it’s out there, open to people for them to add suggestions, concerns and criticisms. Now, that’s accountability. The outlook for 2016 and beyond, I think is good.”
Sutton agrees. “My firm belief is that good strong businesses will still come to Saratoga County and find it an attractive place to stay,” said Sutton. “We’ve got good educational institutions, good housing, good transportation, a stable tax base – there are a variety of reasons for companies to move here. Through the recession, we still held our own through that whole period of time. Now we’re seeing an uptick in manufacturing and other companies that might move into the area.”
In our next edition, we’ll take a closer look at the strategy and its potential impact to the local economy. The Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership is located at 2911 Route 9 in Malta. They can be reached at 518-871-1887 or visit SaratogaPartnership.org.
Spa City to County: Work it Out With SEDC
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council passed a resolution this past week asking the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors to reconsider its decision to sever ties with the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. when the contract comes up for renewal at the end of December.
Spa City Wants County to Continue Relationship with SEDC
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council is expected to present a resolution at tonight’s meeting urging the County to continue its relationship with the Saratoga Economic Development Corp.
SEDC Says County’s Decision to Drop Contract Politically Motivated
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In light of Saratoga County Board of Supervisors decision to not renew its $200,000 contract with Saratoga Economic Development Corp., SEDC countered the decision was politically motivated.
Keeping Saratoga Viable: SEDC's Schneider Honored with National Award
SARATOGA SPRINGS – For local businesswoman Shelby Schneider, winning the “40 Under 40” award from Development Counselors International (DCI) was not an individual achievement, nor a personal one, it was an achievement made possible by the entire organization she works for – Saratoga Economic Development Corporation.