OSWEGO, NY – US Rep. John Katko helped the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon to launch its series of monthly economic development meetings with members of the Oswego County business community.
The Riverside Banquet Room at the Quality Inn was packed with county business leaders, politicians and other interested county residents.
The meeting provided Katko an opportunity to share his work on initiatives in Congress to strengthen Central New York’s economy, as well as gain valuable feedback from business owners, managers and community residents, explained Greg Mills, chamber director.
The Congressman might not be at all future meetings, but members of his staff will attend, Mills said.
“We will continue these discussions as we move forward and hopefully have very productive conversations and opportunities to bring issues to the table,” he added.
The purpose of the monthly business roundtable meetings is to bring the community and the businesses together to further ideas and issues and to have a dialogue with the Congressman.
“The best way to address the needs of our community is to communicate, look for guidance and answers and then take action that can lead to results,” Mills told the large crowd.
Through local business owners and community members listening to Rep. Katko and asking questions about issues they face, it gives Katko a better idea of changes that need to be made, Mills added.
“We have dedicated people in our community who have great ideas and great energy. Today is the beginning and an opportunity to build and strengthen our efforts to move forward,” Mills said. “The Congressman’s enthusiasm and commitment to this region has been very encouraging and brought a great deal of excitement about the possibilities that are ahead of us.”
The Congressman discussed some of what he’s been doing to assist the area. He also responded to questions regarding taxes in New York State, the cost of health care, tourism and other local issues.
“I said when I was campaigning that I was going to pay attention to Oswego in a way that it hadn’t been paid attention to before, because it’s the right thing to do, because you need it,” Katko said. “You deserve it from your Congressman. And, I meant it. We’re paying attention up here and it’s important.”
When Katko looks at Oswego County, he said he sees “potential.”
Tax increases won’t continue to happen “if you have some economic growth,” he said.
“So, you’ve got to decide what’s going to drive the engine here,” he said.
He cited as highlights the thriving port, Novelis and Huhtamaki.
Huhtamaki is cutting-edge, high-tech and they have squeezed every bit of efficiency out of their operation – what companies need to be, he said.
Oswego is the first deep-water port on the Great Lakes, Katko said, adding, “I want to know why ships are going by here to other ports. And, if they do start coming here, what can we do about it?”
Work is currently under way on the breakwall “and we hope to follow it up next year with dredging,” Katko said. “If you want the bigger ships to come in here, you need to have a deep-water port.”
Zelko Kirincich, Executive Director and CEO of the port, is a guy on a mission, according to the Congressman.
“He’s got an idea to hook the Port of Oswego down into Syracuse and try to get some sort of partnership going with the New York Port Authority. The New York port is overwhelmed. Sometimes, ships sit out in the water for days waiting to get unloaded. There’s got to be a better way. The thinking is a lot of containers coming this way, a lot of ships coming up here. We’re working on that. Long-term that can mean a lot of good paying jobs for Central New York,” Katko said.
Tourism is another big piece of the economy.
This area is “a gem” and people shouldn’t be afraid to say that, he pointed out.
“Let’s be cheerleaders. We can’t just be businesses; we’ve got to be ambassadors,” he said.
He called Fort Ontario “an unbelievable asset” that’s not talked about enough. He’d like to include Safe Haven and make the entire area a national park.
“You’ve got a lot of history here that, I think, is under-recognized and under-valued. That’s something we should really start promoting more.”
A lot of people lament manufacturing is dead in Central New York.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no other way to say it, it’s complete BS,” Katko said.
Local businesses are struggling with tax rates that are probably two to three times what their foreign competitors’ are, he said.
More needs to be done to level the playing field – “I don’t care if it’s even; if it’s remotely level, we would come back with manufacturing in this country in a huge way,” he said.
The more government gets out of the way, the better off business would be, Katko said, adding, “I never heard anyone say they wanted more government.”
For more information on the series and chamber, contact Mills ([email protected]) at the chamber (343-7681).