By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, rolled out a package of economic development bills Thursday at the Amsterdam Castle aimed at helping small businesses and farms.
The bills respectively aim to establish tax credits to companies who invest broadband Internet access in rural areas like this one, revolving loan funds for farms which gross less than $100,000 annually, and grants for farmers impacted by natural disasters.
"Our rural communities and small, upstate cities are not getting the support they need, and many of the unique challenges facing our local businesses are not being addressed," Tkaczyk said.
The Small Farm Modernization Revolving Loan Fund calls to provide low interest loans of up to $25,000 to help small farms modernize, purchase new equipment, or expand the amount of crops planted.
"It's a low interest loan so it gets recycled, and its a way to help small farms to expand and meet market opportunities," Tkaczyk said.
The Small Farm Disaster Recovery Grant program would provide grants of up to $10,000 to small farm owners to purchase and replant crops that have been destroyed by a natural disaster.
"It's a way to help immediately, and provide farmers some relief when dealing with events totally out of their control. I think the state has to realize we have to support small farmers, because when small farms thrive, the entire state thrives."
Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District Corey Nellis said agriculture is the county's foundation. He said he's seen an influx of new farmers coming into the county, and "we definitely need the support to help get them off the ground."
Nellis said it's hard for farms to stay in business, especially those impacted by the flooding events in 2011 caused by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. At farms in the Lost Valley, there was 100 percent crop loss, and some farm land was buried by between 30,000 to 40,000 of gravel and stone that had to be removed,
Last year, because of severe drought, Montgomery County's farmers saw between 15 and 25 percent crop loss. The drought was so damaging to vegetable farmer's land he wasn't able to plant his fall harvest, Nellis said.
"There's no question, we need the support. Agriculture too important to Montgomery County to ignore these issues," Nellis said.
The Broadband Internet Access Act of 2013 would establish a 10 percent tax credit to companies that install new broadband service in rural, underserved and unserved areas. Tkaczyk pointed out that no residential customers in Montgomery County have access to fiber-optic broadband services in Montgomery County.
Tkaczyk said increasing such services would help businesses grow on the Internet and take advantage of the global market.
"Unless you're connected, you're missing out," Tkaczyk said.
While there are such services offered at the county's industrial business parks -- Florida, Florida Park Extension, Glen, and Edson Street -- Montgomery County Economic Development and Planning Director Ken Rose said they're not available to residential customers or small businesses.
"When people think of infrastructure -- they think of roads, water, and sewer capacity, but broadband is just as critical," Rose said. "It's critical for our existing companies, and critical to entice others into this region. The senator's initiative supports Fulton and Montgomery counties' regional business plan, but it could also reduce costs by increasing competition."
Still, Rose said any company looking to establish broadband here would likely weigh the cost of development against its personal gain. In addition to establishing a main line, feeder lines would also have to be constructed, making for an expensive project, he said.