Summit examines Fulton County's future

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - Updated: 7:17 AM


Recorder News Staff

JOHNSTOWN -- Close to 100 people turned out to listen, share ideas and work toward the future during the Fulton County: Vision 2026 summit Tuesday.

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors hosted the event at the Holiday Inn, where participants had the chance to view the county's draft vision statement and development strategy.

"Today you will be participating in plotting our communities future," board chair Charlie Potter said. "Our vision for the next 10 years and beyond. By being here, you are agreeing to be challenged and I encourage you to actively involve yourself in the discussion," he said.

The purpose of the event was to obtain input toward initiatives to boost local and economic growth.

"If we are successful, we will have diagramed a plan to make Fulton County a positive place with a positive attitude, a place every other place wants to be," Potter said.

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the board of supervisors created a plan after the most recent recession. This plan, was to promote growth at a revenue, local, economical and job standpoint. The county initiated "Jump Start Fulton County" in 2014, which included a new series of projects tailored to address today's economic challenges. The previously launched project includes several strategic initiatives aimed at invigorating the business climate in the region.

Since that time, the county has been working with River Street Planning and Development to prepare an economic development strategy that will provide the vision for future economic development opportunities in the area.

Margaret Irwin, of River Street Planning and Development, discussed four goals in the draft county development strategy.

The goals were as follows:

· Position Fulton County as an extraordinary place to live with an enviable quality of life.

· Continue to build a strong economy and tax base.

· Emphasize the fact that healthy communities are connected to nature.

· Innovate through bold leadership and progressive planning.

"We have been working with the county under the framework to create a county-wide development strategy," Irwin said. "I say we are about 50 to 60 percent through that process, so now that there are goals and objectives identified, [preliminary goals and objectives]."

She described each goal in depth. Each goal had several objectives written beneath, along with space for summit participants to share their own ideas. Irwin read the draft vision statement, some of which described friendly neighborhoods, scenic lakefronts and all that is good about "small town America."

"Today is about sharing a little bit of information with you about what we are learning, but mostly about working together in small groups to talk about ideas that can make this real and finish this strategy up and start to get it implemented," she said.

Irwin went over the pros and cons of Fulton County. Some of the pros were: the high quality of life, lower cost of living and affordable homes. Some of the negatives were: a shrinking youth workforce, underperforming schools and lack of a variety in housing. All of these examples were compared to nearby counties. Irwin discussed promoting the Hales Mills and Vail Mills development areas and getting younger families to want to live in the community.

Richard Kline, president of Shannon Rose Design, introduced two new marketing videos. The first video was to strictly promote Fulton County.

"The strategy of this video is to bring entrepreneurs into the county," he said.

The second video was about the Tryon Technology Park. The video went into detail about why someone would want to choose that location for their business.

"It's affordability, it's shovel ready and you have access to 70 million people within a four-hour drive in any direction," he said.

Johnny T. Evers, director of Government Affairs for the Business Council of New York State, served as the keynote speaker for the 2026 summit. He said the biggest issue communities face is the business climate in New York state. Evers included the budget deficit, mandates from Albany, worker's compensation reform and the minimum wage increase. He advocated for real education reform.

"It's not just the tax breaks, it's not just the parks, it's not just the regulation, it's the people in the community that you have. This is part of real-education reform in New York, not just increasing state education aid, but making sure these community colleges and high schools have the ability to teach the next work force, which isn't all high tech," Evers said.

Businesses need to remarket themselves, he said, before discussing the positives of Fulton County. This included being a nexus of transportation and having huge educational systems nearby.

"You build your successes on what you have. Right away you led with the punches you had," he said.

Evers complimented the county's zoning and water marketing plan.

"More and more counties are doing what Fulton County is doing. Trying to get the municipalities to realize that just as the economy is regional, just because you locate something in one town or village, doesn't mean it won't impact the village or town next store to it or the county at large. I see more of this coming in the future," he said.

Community members who attended the summit split into groups to discuss the draft economic development strategy and vision. They were given time to collaborate and discuss each goal and its given objectives. Irwin read some of the comments during the end of the event, but saved the rest to be documented.

"County staff will now work through all the input and ideas and integrate it into a final guide for our economic development strategy," Potter said. "We will update you on final product as we go."