Star-Gazette Reports on 22nd Annual Economic Forum

Posted February 13, 2015

Economic Forum speakers say NY needs to get out of the way
By Jeff Murray, The Star-Gazette, 2/12/15

The Southern Tier is poised for a major economic comeback in the next five to 10 years, according to speakers at Thursday's annual economic forum in Elmira.

The biggest stumbling block to that recovery is New York state and its tax and economic policies, those same speakers believe.

Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli, who served as moderator for the 22nd annual Economic Forum, touted the county's manufacturing base, which is still stronger than many other counties.

Santulli also warned maintaining that strength will require changes at the state level.

"People tell me how lucky Chemung County is to have such manufacturing going on. That's not true everywhere," he said. "There's great opportunity for this region to come alive. The negative is this state is still not the environment to attract economic activity. We need to change the environment at the state level to help the local level."

Jack Benjamin, president of Three Rivers Development Corp. in Corning, said recent emphasis has been on regional development rather than individual communities focusing on their own needs.

But that growth is still hampered by state policies that are not business-friendly, said Benjamin, who said the state and its various communities have a parent/child relationship, and it's time for the children to adopt some "attitude."

"We have great opportunities, but all in the context of the state environment. Upstate has for years not been a prosperous member of the state family," Benjamin said. "Our median household income has fallen 6 percent since 2009. The median household income in our area is $48,000. Statewide it's $58,000 and the U.S. average is $51,000."

The region has many valuable resources that help offset that state business climate, Benjamin said, including the Finger Lakes, several prominent institutions of higher learning, tourism and companies such as Corning Inc.

A major focus going forward will be taking advantage of the growth potential along the Interstate 86 corridor in Chemung and Steuben counties, Benjamin said. The Elmira area also needs to find better ways to benefit from the presence of Elmira College, he added.

The forum at the Holiday Inn Riverview in Elmira was sponsored by the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce, Southern Tier Economic Growth and Elmira Savings Bank.

Other speakers included Kennedy Valve General Manager Arne Feyling, who said his company — with 340 employees and a $25 million payroll in Elmira — is bouncing back from a housing slump in 2008-09 that affected major markets for Kennedy Valve products, which are fire hydrants and valves used in municipal water systems.

Chemung Canal Trust Co. President Ron Bentley discussed historically low interest rates, and said they are a stimulus to the economy but at the same time, can hurt people who are saving for retirement and investors who are seeking higher yields.

One of the consistent bright spots in the Southern Tier economy has been the performance of Watkins Glen Racetrack.

Not only does the track attract hundreds of thousands of fans to the region annually, but another 5.1 million watch races at the Glen on television, said Michael Printup, Watkins Glen International president.

WGI has also invested millions of dollars in the facility and will undertake another major improvement project this summer, Printup told forum participants.

"We are doing a repave of the track this year. It's a $12 to $14 million project," he said. "We've got $45 million invested in the track in the last eight or nine years. There are more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs generated by Watkins Glen International and an annual economic impact of $204 million."

(For original story, please visit http://www.stargazette.com/story/news/local/2015/02/12/chamber-economic-forum/23292875/.)

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