Ross Calls for Economic Development Intiatives, Low Taxes, Less Government in State of the County Address
By: Christian Peck
LOCKPORT-Challenging county legislators to continue working to preserve and expand Niagara County’s economic strength via novel economic development programs, Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, delivered the annual State of the County address before a packed County Courthouse last tonight.
The address, which came in at just over 46 minutes, began with a detailed reminiscence of Niagara County’s nearly-completed bicentennial events, and then swiftly shifted gears to focus heavily on the county’s economy in a period of national and statewide economic uncertainty.
Laying out a blueprint for maintaining fiscal stability and expanding the county’s economy, Ross directed the bulk of his speech toward calling for continued and expanded support of initiatives of the Niagara County Center for Economic Development and the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
“Work for that fiscal responsibility, that fiscal stability,” Ross demanded of his fellow legislators in the year ahead. “A lot comes out of our Niagara County Center for Economic Development, out of our Niagara County IDA. The work that is done on growth and retention, with Deputy Commissioner (of Economic Development) Mike Casale, is so important. The work that they do with existing companies, the conference calls, the meetings-this all not only works toward retention, which is so important, but also towards new growth.”
Ross noted that the NCIDA had a track record of generating jobs in 2008, and demanded the same performance from the agency in the year ahead. “The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency-how many projects did they complete last year? Sixteen projects,” Ross said. “But more important, they created 585 jobs, and of course, retained another 304.
Now, how much money will these 16 projects invest in this county? Over$83 million.”
Ross succinctly wrapped up his call for continued NCIDA efforts. “Economic initiatives: Just what we need to keep ahead of the curve,” he said.
Ross also pointed to various low-cost power allocations being utilized to help existing companies retain jobs and to lure new companies to the county. He noted that a program that has been heavily advocated by Economic Development Committee Chairman Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, had begun to reap benefits for county taxpayers.
“We set up Empower Niagara,” Ross said. “It will grant-when [companies] go through the application process-energy. And we’ve already granted two. One went to agriculture, Russell Farms out in Newfane. The other went to a Wheatfield concern to save jobs, and to create more jobs.”
The latter low-cost power award from Empower Niagara, a program that provides small and medium-sized businesses with low-cost electricity to help spur job creation by lowering the cost of doing business in Niagara County, went to Vishay Thin Films. Vishay is a high-tech firm located in Wheatfield manufacturing resisters for electrical circuitry.
“Empower Niagara is another way to motivate firms on either some retention or growth,” he said.
Ross also pointed to low-cost hydropower allocations provided through a deal struck with the New York Power Authority, typically provided to larger companies, as an engine of job creation in Niagara County.
“These allocations, with the 60 megawatts of low-cost hydropower, will support the creation of 763 new jobs, and helped retain 304 jobs in Niagara County, while seeing these companies invest over $326 million in their facilities.”
The county’s economy wasn’t the only thing on Ross’s mind, however. The Chairman also called on county lawmakers to continue to strive for lower taxes, an objective achieved now for four years in a row, through efforts to make government leaner.
“We worked to reduce our workforce,” Ross said. “When I came back [to the Legislature] in 2000, nine years ago, between full-time and part-time, we were up near that 1,900-mark, maybe 1,875 employees.
Today we’ve got about 1,450 full-time employees.” Ross noted the county had embraced a strategy of targeted workforce reductions and would continue to work toward boosting workforce efficiency.
“We’ve been working on reducing,” Ross said. “But not reducing for the sake of reducing, but reducing while still maintaining all essential services.”