Signs of Hope

George Winner

September 28, 2009

[In the accompanying photo, Senator Winner recently joined a number of other area leaders to celebrate the groundbreaking on a key five-mile stretch of Route 15 in Steuben County (see details below)]

Good news on the economic front remains hard to find, so we have to take our occasions when and where we can find them to recognize signs of local economic hope and success.

I’ve been grateful to have a couple of these chances over the past few weeks.

Not long ago I joined local leaders, economic developers, and officials from one of the region’s prominent employers, Schuyler County-based U.S. Salt, to celebrate an exciting, flagship project.  It was the official announcement of the company’s new cutting-edge, green technology that will repower its operations using New York State-grown woody biomass, a renewable energy source.  Through this project, U.S. Salt becomes the first plant within the North American salt industry to repower its operation by moving away from traditional fossil fuels to a cleaner, renewable source of energy.

This U.S. Salt project – which I was pleased to help encourage, support, and ultimately secure a meaningful state investment in -- immediately places the Finger Lakes region at the forefront of the type of emerging green technology that holds such promise for the next generation.  It stands to strengthen important local businesses and industries, like the forest products industry, and, at a time when we’re hearing and reading far too much about economic decline and job loss, preserves and creates local jobs.  In fact, it’s expected that the project will allow U.S. Salt to retain 130 local jobs and create at least 50 new ones.

So it was good news, and we had every reason to celebrate it.  U.S. Salt deserves credit for recognizing that its future in a highly competitive industry required some dramatic and dynamic changes.  Of course we can’t say enough about the quality of our local economic developers, in this case the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), for a championship-caliber commitment to the regional economy. 

This is the kind of headline that warrants top billing in upstate New York, a region that in so many ways remains under siege.  We need more of them.  They’re headlines, by the way, that are only achieved through a strong public-private partnership.  I believe they speak to exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about reviving the upstate economy and while the upstate turnaround agenda remains a long and substantive one, this helps point the way.

And while we’re on the thought of how to pave the way to future success, I was also pleased to recently take part in another groundbreaking ceremony – this one in Steuben County to celebrate construction getting underway on the “missing link” on the completion of Route 15.  It goes without saying that Route 15 represents an exciting link between the states of Pennyslvania and New York.  The eventual completion of this five-mile stretch places us on the brink of establishing one of the nation’s outstanding interstate highway systems.

The development of Route 15 has been a key collaboration between the states of New York and Pennsylvania – one that’s going to produce outstanding benefits for motorist safety (and throughout this process, safety has remained a top priority thanks to the efforts of so many concerned citizens), ease of travel for our tourists, and as an economic lifeline for the workers and the communities of this entire region and all of the Northeast. 

It, too, deserves top billing. 

So while we need to focus on the fact that unemployment rates in area counties are far too high and that too many area counties are recognized for having some of the highest property tax rates in the nation – it’s incredibly important to, when possible, highlight any and every sign of hope that we can.