Urgent Need for County Economic Agenda

(#327) – If you don’t have an agenda, then you are probably on the agenda of some body else. This advice is a short way of reminding us that the new surge in large economic investment in Sullivan County that will very substantially reshape the character of our communities and physical landscape needs a vision and plan for both private and public projects.

The County Planning Department will soon rollout its Strategic Plan for Economic Development.  It provides a list of preferred projects in the health care, tourism and agricultural sectors.  This will provide some guidance for legislators and economic development agencies. But, it does not address the major sources of economic investment such as resorts, casinos, health spa, motor raceway, Chinese owned schools, Apollo Mall, county jail, and many other projects.

A recent blog from Legislator Sorensen identifying the need for a more robust use of land zoning and other tools of municipal government at the county and town level is very welcome.  It would also be very positive if the County Planning Department was included in the list of agencies to receive a higher level of budget with specific instructions to augment its land use expertise.  There is expert staff there for this purpose but additional capacity is needed to meet the recent growth in economic activity. A design of what distinguishes and secures the quality of life in Sullivan County needs to be provided.  It is really a question of who and what values define the place where we live.

A broader discussion including the County Office of the Treasurer, Industrial Development Agency, Sullivan County Funding Corporation, Partnership for Economic Development, Sullivan County Visitors Association, Work Force Development, County Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the Towns Boards would also provide a lot better coordination and collaboration. Our electric utilities and fossil fuel companies, health providers and educators need to be included.  Local media should commit to covering such discussions on a high priority basis in order to empower citizens with the information for their participation in the determination of the character of the county economy.

Several formats have been tried in recent years without significant benefit. A new effort must be made to open and sustain this discussion. On the agenda for this discussion are issues of priority importance that have not been addressed before.

Let’s start with a thorough discussion of:

1)   What are the limits to tourism development in a world of diminishing resources;

2)   A commitment of government to require that all tourist facilities be built with a deep commitment to energy efficiency and renewable energy systems and embedded architectural design for retrofit for other use as our economy moves towards ever greater unsustainability and the need for basic services becomes compelling;

3)   Careful computation of all the associated infrastructure and human costs of the projects and a much better job of securing investments in our communities to mitigate negative impacts.

4)   A minimum of $17/hour with full benefits as a floor for all employees.

5)   A comprehensive plan to raise our agricultural and forestry resources to leading economic prominence in Sullivan County.

Additional agenda items will be fleshed out in our next column.  In the meantime, let’s not suppose that naïveté is at work here. Admittedly, sustainable economic development is much more challenging to get right these days. But, projects of such transformative nature must be in synch with the new requirements of climate change and render first service to those who already live here. These goals are fundamental.

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