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Lewis County Legislature, IDA looking to create more economic development

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s Industrial Development Agency and Board of Legislators are trying to develop a better strategy to increase economic development.

The boards met Wednesday night to talk about ways the county could improve its pursuits to lure industry and other business.

County Manager Elizabeth Swearingin said the county could continue as is, or there could be one organization or individual to run the show as policy center and visionary.

The county now has the county Economic Development and Planning Department, the IDA and Lewis County Development Corp. all working separately to achieve the same goal.

If the county goes with one organization or person, the IDA would become the funding mechanism to support development efforts, according to Mrs. Swearingin.

“As much as I have come to love this county, everybody has learned to say no and very few people have learned how to say yes. We have to get back into saying yes,” Mrs. Swearingin said.

Several ideas were offered to help with economic development, including the construction of an industrial park and having the economic development agencies solicit businesses rather than waiting for companies to approach.

The boards also talked about having a single point of accountability, whether it be an agency or a person.

IDA Chairman Jack T. Bush told the legislature there has been economic development in the county through recreational activities and agriculture.

“It would be nice to have more industry. That is kind of a hurdle and I am not looking down my nose at the county or anything, but that is something that should be addressed,” Mr. Bush said. “There are some things that we don’t have that our neighbors do have.”

Stevie Smith, executive director of Transitional Living Services of Northern New York, Watertown, said that to bring industry into the county, there needs to be a concerted effort among the county, the IDA and the towns and villages.

“It is not about the fact that Jefferson County has all of those resources. It is about how we are more creative about accessing those resources for ourselves and actually marketing the strengths of the county.” Mrs. Smith said. “We have been talking now for several months to have a shovel ready site (in Lewis County), but that takes money, that takes commitment and takes the community coming together for that. That is something that definitely needs to be addressed and needs some resources from the county.”

Legislator Bryan D. Moser, R-Kirschnerville, said the county must focus on how to keep the younger generation.

“We need to keep the younger residents here somehow to help out with the tax base,” Mr. Moser said. “The retired people cannot support this county the way it is right now. We need something to draw the younger people in to take over that position.”

Mr. Moser said that while recreation is great, the county cannot depend solely on it for an economic base. He said it is a positive addition to everything else, but the county needs industrial jobs to keep younger people here.

Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, asked board members if they wanted to explore the option of appointing a person to be the lead on economic development. The board called an executive session to discuss the option.

When the executive session was over, Mr. Tabolt said the discussion was about the option of whether to do nothing, combine forces or determine whether one central leader was the right option. He said the IDA is going to talk about this and so will the county. No decision was made as to the appointment.

The discussion topic was not grounds for an executive session under state Public Officers Law, however.

The open-meetings law states that an executive session may be called to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.” The discussion of whether to create a position, and how to staff it, is supposed to be held in open session.

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