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Chamber Event Focuses On State Economy, Businesses

FULTON, NY – State, county and local officials gathered recently for the Inaugural ‘State of the Region’ breakfast focusing on economic impacts to small business.

Organized by the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, the event was held at the Oasis at Thunder Island.

The speakers included: NY State Sen. Pattie Ritchie, NY State Assemblyman Robert Oaks, NY State Assemblyman Will Barclay, NY State Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, Oswego County Legislator Morris Sorbello, Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward and Community Development Director Mary Vanouse representing the city of Oswego.

Sen. Pattie Ritchie
Sen. Pattie Ritchie

“There are so many mandates on school districts and local governments that need to be repealed,” Ritchie said.

She has put together a group to look at the issue and send recommendations to Gov. Cuomo.

The senator also created a business advisory group to encourage private investment and try to eliminate some of the many rules and regulations that she says hinders small business growth.

“We would do a lot better if government would just get out of our way,” she said many small business people have told her.

Bill Crist, Oswego City School District Superintendent, noted it would help districts in this region if the state aid formula for schools was standardized.

“Many school districts upstate are impacted by significantly lower state aid then some of the school districts down state,” he said. “Clearly, there is a disparity as to how state funds are directed to school districts like Oswego and Fulton and Hannibal, Central Square and how other school districts downstate, that really don’t need state support, receive funds.”

Upstate is “outnumbered” by downstate, she noted.

“So, realistically, the chance of getting some legislation to help those of us in the North Country … can be a tough battle.”

Oaks said the state and economy “are a bit like the Syracuse University and Buffalo Bills football teams right now. They are undefeated, you get a sense they are making progress, but we really don’t believe, most of us, that it is going to necessarily end up that well. We need more proof as we go along.”

Cuomo’s second year in office will be a lot more important than his first, Oaks said.

“The first year gives us a chance at the future; it’s like getting a new coach. But year number two is sort of going to be where the rubber meets the road. And are we now going to make the additional changes that are needed to give us a real chance in the future?” he said.

“We have a different state upstate and downstate. And it’s not just the way we view the world socially or the way we have more land … We depend a lot more on manufacturing or agriculture,” he continued.

The costs associated with that here are significantly higher than compared to those downstate, he noted.

“I’m going to challenge the governor to say no new mandates, no new regulations this coming year while we are reviewing other ones,” he added.

“Some of the challenges we have in New York is the upstate-downstate divide,” Barclay agreed. “If we don’t work together as a team we won’t be able to get lots of things done.”

There are a lot of things that need to be done next year; working on workers’ comp, energy costs, reducing mandates and more, he said.

“Unfortunately, the economy has not turned around as we’d hoped. And so, this year we really have to go back and deal with some of these very tough issues,” he said.

Tenney comes from a small business background and said she had “struggled with New York State.”

Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney
Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney

“It’s so hard to do business right now in New York State as a small business owner. I know many of you can relate to that,” she said. “It’s very frustrating because people in New York City sometimes don’t understand how small business works, they don’t understand rural communities; they think we’re a bunch of hayseeds. It is very frustrating.”

She has started compiling a list of evidence of over-regulation, ridiculous regulation, ridiculous fines and penalties on small businesses. She will present the complete list to the governor, she added.

Sorbello briefed the audience of what the county is doing to invigorate the economy in the area.

Woodward and Vanouse gave an update on the progress in their cities.

Ellen Wahl, director of RSVP, said one of the things she’d like everyone to do is remember the prevention programs. She cited the food pantries for example.

“They are run by volunteers. They are the safety net for people just needing a meal, a bite to eat. I stopped in to the Human Concerns Center last week. At this time last year, they were serving 4,200 meals. This year, it’s up it’s up to 6,800 meals,” she pointed out.

FEMA funds that used to help the food pantries has been cut, she added.

“Boy! Talk about doing more with less. I know a lot of businesses are hit up to help non-profits. Believe me, we really appreciate it because what’s happening at the other end; instead of funding with help for prevention, we feel like there is a scissors being taken to that net,” she said.

She had some seniors who wanted to volunteer to help at-risk students. But that program was cut, she said.

“What are we doing by cutting these programs?” she said. “I think we should think long-term and we should think prevention.”