Economic Sectors
Architectural rendering of Oswego Health’s new $17 million behavioral health services headquarters on the site once occupied by Price Chopper on the east side of Oswego.

Economic Sectors

Analysis of some of the key sectors of the local economy

By Lou Sorendo

1. Agriculture

Workforce, dairy issues plague the region’s agricultural scene

James
James

With President Donald Trump’s hard stance on immigration, area farmers are bracing for possible impact, since they use migrant workers.

“There has been heightened concern over the past two years with tougher rhetoric and increased focus on enforcement only when it comes to immigration reform,” said Mark James, senior field adviser-membership strategy specialist for the New York Farm Bureau. “Finding reliable labor remains a real struggle on farms across New York.”

He said the NYFB continues to push for national immigration reform that will address both seasonal and long-term needs in the state.

“An expanded work visa system would help ease the burden and legally open the system to people who want to come to this country to make a good living while also filling an important void that our country must address,” he said. “We need the ability to grow the food we need to feed ourselves.”

New York has been regarded as an unfriendly state to agriculture, mostly because of onerous governmental regulations that make it difficult for farmers to operate.

NYFB President David Fisher said in his state annual meeting address that the No. 1 thing he hears from members is that good help is hard to find.

“An added concern is the minimum wage has climbed again in 2019 and continues to put added financial stress on a struggling farm economy,” James said.

Farmers naturally compete for labor and are already paying above minimum wage in most cases, but in a tight labor market, it does make it even more difficult to find people willing and able to do the work required on a farm, James said.

“Labor costs can push up prices, particularly for farms that control their own prices by direct marketing to consumers. But for most farms that compete against farmers in other states and countries with lower wage rates, they can’t pass those costs on to consumers.”

James said they must have a competitive price point in order to sell their goods.

“That is why rising wage rates in New York are a real concern that compounds the labor situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, James said the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets has worked with the farm bureau and other agricultural organizations, through its SILO process, to identify areas where regulatory burdens can be addressed.

The SILO process involves a committee comprised of representatives from other state agencies, such as the Departments of Labor, Environmental Conservation and Transportation

It meets periodically to review regulatory roadblocks for farmers.

“The committee tries to develop creative solutions to solve those roadblocks and ease or make less complicated the compliance with those regulations,” James said.

In addition, the state did approve a workforce tax credit to help farms deal with the rising minimum wage. However, NYFB believes it should be doubled and is also asking that it be applied to other farmers like Christmas tree growers, maple producers and farm cideries and wineries, James noted.

The dairy dilemma

The price local dairy farmers are paid for milk has fallen significantly over the past four to five years. According to James, this has been one of the toughest issues facing New York agriculture.

According to United States Department of Agriculture statistics, New York has lost about 1,000 dairy farms or close to 20 percent in the past five years, largely due to the exceedingly long period of low milk prices.

“It has made it increasingly challenging for many farms to operate above the cost of production,” James said. “Ultimately, it comes down to supply and demand.”

The U.S. lost some of the dairy export market when there was a downturn in the global economy, and current trade and tariff issues have only exacerbated the problem, James said.

“There were some changes in the recent 2018 Farm Bill that will hopefully address the issue, including a revised dairy safety net, allowing low-fat flavored milk back in the schools, and a revised skim milk pricing formula,” he said.

In addition, increased processing to handle the oversupply of fluid milk would also be an important step as there is strong demand for cheese, yogurt and full-fat products like butter, he added.

Focus on vegetables

Sorbello & Sons, Inc., is a multi-generational farm that grows mainly onions and soybeans on muck land.

Morris Sorbello, a county legislator, has passed the torch to his sons, Dana and David, who run operations off county Route 14 in Fulton.

Sorbello has been active in organizations that support local agriculture, and is a member of the board of directors of the New York State Vegetable Growers Association.

The association is a nonprofit corporation that serves commercial fresh market, storage and processing vegetable growers.

The association supports research that is done through Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, and works with other agricultural organizations and government officials to promote the vegetable industry.

“I want to keep the seat in Oswego County if I could,” Sorbello said. “Trying to find someone to do it is like pulling teeth. It’s tough to get people to serve.”

Sorbello applauds government support for agriculture.

He said there are several avenues to take for those in the agricultural industry to finance expansions, such as the county of Oswego Industrial Development Agency.

Sorbello said starting a farm requires a significant investment.

He said in many instances, purchasing equipment for farming runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His grandson, a 2018 graduate of Cornell University, is working for a company in Cooperstown that provides loans to farmers.

“He said small growers are having a terrible time. It breaks his heart that they can’t get financing,” he said.

Also, Sorbello is a member of the Central New York Planning and Development Board, which features a lending division.

Meanwhile, vegetables in general are produced on a much smaller scale than in years’ past. Local farmers are not producing lettuce anymore for commercial purposes due to a changed marketing environment.

He said products such as beans, corn, grain and onions are being produced on larger farms that feature their own harvestries.

Sorbello noted farmers working thousands of acres of land require combine harvesters and like equipment to do the job.

“I don’t think there is the cohesiveness like there used to be,” he said. “People are not getting together and doing things, and it doesn’t seem to be as tight as it used to be.”

With the price of a gallon of milk dropping to  the lowest its been in 10 years, New York dairy farmers are making less money than they used to.

With prices plummeting for milk, production from farmers with less than 100 cows is cost-prohibitive, Sorbello said, forcing many in the area to go strictly to beef cattle.

He noted that the North Ridge Dairy Farm in Lacona, home to about 1,800 cows, is the largest dairy farm in Oswego County.

He said smaller units of 10 to 20 cows are nearly extinct.

The Sorbello farm also grows corn in both mineral soil as well as a rotation crop on muck land.

He said there are many brokerage firms and cooperatives available that purchase grains such as corn, including Sunoco for its ethanol production operation in Fulton.

He said some of the larger growers are buying product such as grain from small-scale farmers and storing it because they have the proper facilities such as air-drying capabilities.


2. Organized Labor

IBEW, union workers have plates full when it comes to construction work in 2019

Marzullo
Marzullo

With challenge comes opportunity. While many baby boomers are aging out of the building trades sector in the Central New York region, it also opens up job opportunities for others seeking a solid career path.

Alan Marzullo is the business manager and financial secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 43.

The local supplies skilled labor to more than 40 contractors in the Syracuse, Utica and Oswego area. The organization features more than 1,200 members.

Marzullo is in his first year leading the local and has been with the organization since 2008.

“We are very cognizant of the aging-out trend and pay very close attention to it,” he said. “Recruiting opportunities are more plentiful due to baby boomers retiring.”

The IBEW has been proactive in the sense of taking applications electronically over the internet, Marzullo said.

This instant availability contrasts to the days when job seekers would have to visit the union office at a designated time to apply.

“A person looking to get in can go right to our website, www.ibew43.org, fill out an application at their leisure at any point in time, and send it in to start the process,” he said.

Technology has had a dramatic impact on the union sector.

“For me as a business manager, I am very up on the latest technology and how to help those who want to apply get in,” said Marzullo, adding technology has also been useful to communicate with and educate membership as a whole.

Oswego is one of 11 counties that Local 43 covers.

Marzullo said the pool of workers “is good” in Oswego County.

“We are in the area high schools and middle schools, as well as BOCES programs,” said Marzullo, adding that the IBEW also coordinates efforts with organizations such as the Oswego County Workforce Development’s One-Stop Career Center in Fulton.

He said the aging-out trend affects all trade unions.

In addition, Marzullo said when the economy took a nosedive in 2008, unions did not recruit that many workers. That fact combined with workers aging out left a void in terms of the availability of middle-aged workers to take the place of baby boomers moving on, he added.

“Recruitment gets ramped up when times are good, which is the situation we are in right now,” Marzullo said.

Changing times

He said market share as well as the number of union workers continues to increase both in the private and public sectors.

“Those applying for jobs today are not just the students who didn’t make it to college,” Marzullo said.

Instead, the men and women seeking employment own college degrees.

“The difference is kids are not finding jobs that they went to college for,” he said. “That’s because Mom and Dad said, ‘Hey, you have to go to college in order to be successful.’”

However, young people are starting to define success differently, determining that it can be found in the form of a “middle-class, middle America job right here in Oswego County in the building trades,” the union leader said.

That occupation comes with annuity and pension plans, and health care benefits tied to base pay as opposed to reliance on a county’s welfare system.

“This is why unions are and should continually be strong because we support all of those benefits that help members as well as the community,” Marzullo said.

Optimistic about 2019

The union leader expressed optimism regarding work lined up for 2019 in the Central New York region.

“Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been putting a lot of funding for economic development in each zone of the state,” he said.

He said significant work is lined up at SUNY Oswego, the Port of Oswego Authority and at the soon-to-be Oswego Health behavioral health facility in the Port City.

Also, work at Hancock International Airport and at the state fairgrounds in Syracuse will be the focus, while the new Mohawk Valley Health System hospital in Utica also is promising from a labor union perspective.

Meanwhile, Exelon’s Nine Mile Point and James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plants in Scriba generate an “astronomical” amount of work for IBEW members.

“Thank goodness the governor and lawmakers stepped in to make sure FitzPatrick didn’t go away,” said Marzullo in reference to the state’s successful efforts at avoiding a shutdown of the plant several years ago.

To illustrate their importance, Marzullo said during an outage at one of the nuclear facilities, he places more than 100 electricians at a given facility. That equates to 30,000 to 40,000 man-hours, he added.

“When you combine that with benefit and pension plans and health care, it’s big money,” he said.

“[Exelon] is a true partner of organized labor here in Oswego County,” he added.


3. Human Services

Oswego County Opportunities continues pivotal role as major supplier of human services assistance

Cooper-Currier
Cooper-Currier

In a county whose population is challenged when it comes to socio-economic status, attending to the area’s demand for social services, mental health, family services and youth programs are significant tasks.

Enter Oswego County Opportunities, a private, nonprofit community action agency that provides an array of necessary services.

Diane Cooper-Currier, OCO executive director, said county residents require many resources and services to build a successful, thriving life.

“A critical foundational need is housing,” she said.

Homelessness, and the looming threat of becoming homeless at any moment, stalls any progress toward safety and self-sufficiency, she said.

That’s why OCO is building Champlain Commons, a 56-apartment complex in Scriba that includes 17 units for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

“Without a stable address, you can’t get a job, buy car insurance, or open a bank account,” she said. “Your kids won’t do well academically because they’re always moving from school to school.

“Everyone’s health suffers from lack of adequate rest and regular meals. OCO can help these people obtain a place to call home, with a hand up to develop job skills, get their children enrolled in school, improve their physical, mental and emotional health, and become part of the community in which they live.”

Cooper-Currier said this is a long-term need and developing solutions like Champlain Commons takes time.

OCO also recently received $1 million in funding to renovate The Backstreet Apartments in Fulton, which include permanent, supportive housing units for formerly homeless individuals and families.

“We expect our focus on housing to continue well into the next decade,” she said.

OCO is the fifth-leading private employer in Oswego County with nearly 600 workers.

When crisis knocks, OCO answers.

In 2018, crisis services helped more than 11,000 people with crisis and emergency needs, while the organization helped 157 people get jobs.

Nearly 7,200 residents of all ages received nutritious meals last year, while OCO buses traveled more than 1 million miles.

Mission-focused organization

The organization supports the stability and successful delivery of services in the human services sector in several significant ways, Cooper-Currier said.

She said first and foremost, it is essential to collaborate on the local, county and regional level with government, educational institutions, community groups and other nonprofit organizations to provide a comprehensive menu of services with the least possible duplication.

“Through these strategic partnerships, each member can use its resources efficiently and provide the services it is best at,” Cooper-Currier said. “Together, we can also leverage greater funding and more powerful advocacy on behalf of the clients we serve.”

OCO also maintains a presence in many communities throughout the county to provide the most convenient and accessible links to its services.

“You’ll see us expand this presence over the next three years, both online and via community hubs where clients can walk in and connect with our entire menu of services,” Cooper-Currier said.

She said the phrase “any door access” characterizes OCO’s goal.

In addition, OCO strives for service excellence in all of its programs, Cooper-Currier noted.

She said OCO attracts skilled professionals who embrace its mission and values and choose to devote their entire careers to empowering people to thrive.

“A stable workforce equals continuity of services and stable client and community relationships,” she noted.

Cooper-Currier said by any definition, OCO is a successful organization.

“We have a strong financial position, we carry very little debt, we have a highly skilled and committed workforce, a diverse and dedicated board of directors, a client base of more than 15,000 individuals, and we provide more than 50 services in approximately 100 locations throughout Oswego County,” she said.

She said in 2019, OCO is launching its next three-year strategic plan, which will further strengthen agency capacity, drive its role in building thriving communities, and develop new initiatives to support successful individuals and families.

“We’ll be focusing on staff and leadership development, efficient systems and processes, integrated service delivery, continued leadership in community partnerships, and community education and awareness,” she said.


4. Real Estate

Real estate markets hold their own amidst turbulence in government, financial markets

Farley
Farley

Volatility in the federal government and stock market, combined with global trade tensions, have created uncertainty on the real estate scene as 2019 unfolds, said Florence Farley, realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CNY Realty.

“New tariffs, a lengthy government shutdown, and executive branch and cabinet members giving out misinformation or inaccurate data never help,” she said.

However, the new Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, along with former Reserve chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, reassured the market somewhat when they participated in a joint interview at the American Economic Association meeting in early January.

At first, they were predicting three to four interest rate increases for 2019 based on employment numbers. However, the latest sense is that there may be one increase for 2019, Farley noted.

“Interest rates are still very good at just under 5 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage as of Jan. 9,” she said.

An economist for the National Association of Realtors predicts mortgage rates averaging 5.3 percent in the coming year and reaching 5.5 percent by the end of 2019.

“Small increases in mortgage rates can act as a hedge on inflation,” Farley said.

In 2018, Oswego County experienced significant new construction, and because local employers from Novelis to SUNY Oswego to Oswego Health were hiring, the outlook was positive.

“The very positive vibe this year is coming from newly elected young mayors and legislators who have brought in millions of dollars in grants to begin to upgrade the infrastructure in the area,” she said.

Farley said in collaboration with the state, “we are seeing investments in the Port of Oswego Authority, roads, a revitalized downtown Oswego that is featuring new housing, and enhancements to state parks and the New York State Canal System.”

“Whenever a tax payer sees improvements in the neighborhood around them, they are willing to invest in their own property or even purchase a new one,” she added.

Farley said the real estate market for 2019 should continue to be positive.

“The major employers in Oswego County are still hiring, and the inventory of available homes is low and needs to increase,” she said. “Sellers contemplating a sale should do so this year.”

New tax legislation contains plusses like a higher standard deduction and child credit as well as minuses like the limit on personal exemptions, and a cap on state and local tax deductions as well as moving expenses.

“For the average Oswego County family, they may see slightly more in their pay check or in their tax return,” she noted.

Upper-level New York state homeowners will still have to determine how the maximum on tax deductions will affect their bottom line, she said.

For businesses, there are some hefty incentives, she noted.

The NAR says the 2019 forecast is that existing home sales will stabilize and price growth will continue, but at a slower pace, Farley added.

Meanwhile, The National Association of Home Builders faces significant head winds because of the “five Ls” — labor, lots, laws, lending and lumber.

“These shortages and increased costs may result in fewer new homes being built,” she said.

Tight inventories rule the day

William Galloway, broker-owner of Century 21 Galloway Realty in Oswego, said 2018 started out slow but gradually built momentum throughout the year.

“We finished very strong for the best year we have ever had in real estate in our over 50 years of business,” he said.

Galloway noted there are new projects on the horizon this year that his agency will have a hand in. “We are helping them become a reality and I do not see a slow down at all,” he said.

He noted city of Oswego Mayor William Barlow has made an effort to assist new businesses and has been instrumental in generating new business that is relocating to the Oswego area.

Last year was largely characterized as a seller’s market with tight inventories ruling the residential real estate landscape.

Galloway noted the trend of low inventories continued throughout 2018.

“We have started the new year with the same issue. If anyone is thinking of selling his or her home, now is the time to list your home for sale,” he said. “You have an active real estate market with many buyers and low inventory.”

When comparing November 2018 to statistics from November 2017, there were 22.1 percent less new listings in Oswego County.

Meanwhile, the median sales price of a home during that same time frame jumped 15.8 percent to $112,000.

During that time frame, there were 16.2 percent less homes for sale in Oswego County.

The months supply statistic, which denotes how many months it would take for the current inventory of homes on the market to sell given the current pace of sales, dipped by 11.3 percent to 4.7 months.

In terms of interest rates on loans, Galloway said rates slightly rose in 2018.

However, “all indications are the rates might rise more in 2019 but not to an unreasonable level,” he said.

“It’s a perfect time to invest in real estate in light of the unstable stock market. We are seeing this as a positive for the real estate market in 2019 as well,” he added.


5. Health Care

Oswego Health Continues to Spearhead Major Initiatives

During an age of physician shortages, Oswego Health has welcomed several physicians and physician specialists over the past year or so while it continues efforts to recruit top-notch health care professionals.

As part of its recruitment strategies, Oswego Health monitors national trends, utilizes well-proven tools and enlists its own physicians and leadership to take an active role, according to Michael Harlovic, president and CEO of Oswego Health.

“Our own physicians and hospital leadership play a key recruitment role by taking time from their schedules to meet with new recruits and also assist them as they establish their own offices,” Harlovic said.

“A more recent enticement for physicians has been our quality-of-care achievements,” said Harlovic, noting that Oswego Health now features a seasoned director of physician recruitment in Kristin Bullard.

Those quality-of-care achievements include the top grade of an A awarded to Oswego Hospital by The Leapfrog Group, and Oswego Health earning recognition for having the lowest sepsis rate in the area, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare.

Harlovic said through the interviewing process, it is apparent that today’s physicians desire more flexibility, allowing them to have a balanced professional and personal lifestyle.

Oswego Health’s status as an independent hospital system is able to accommodate this lifestyle request, he noted.

“Physicians like the fact that as an independent system, our leadership is easily accessible and not located many miles or states away,” Harlovic added.

All aboard

After conducting their own research, physicians and physician practices have asked to collaborate with Oswego Health to provide health care services.

This includes bariatric surgeons who joined Oswego Health in developing the Center for Weight Loss & Surgery, as well as physicians from Colon Rectal Associates of Syracuse, who are also now providing care locally.

Also, Oswego Family Physicians recently chose to collaborate with Oswego Health in large part to recruit more primary care physicians to the community and to its practice, Harlovic said.

“This Oswego physician practice has been extremely successful in not only delivering exceptional care to its patients, but also in its operation of an efficient office,” he said. “We plan to emulate this success across our other practices, which we believe will be of benefit to our recruitment efforts.”

Harlovic said the practice’s physicians are also “great recruitment ambassadors and have a sense of the physician skill sets that our community needs and whether a recruit will transition well to our community.”

Another example is Howard Simon, a renowned Syracuse surgeon who provided care on a part-time basis last summer.

“He found himself impressed with our nursing staff and surgery facilities and recently formally joined our surgical team,” Harlovic said.

In the past year, Bullard, along with supporting physicians and staff , recruited eight physicians and 10 advanced care providers, which include nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“As a native to the area, Bullard provides both a very detailed description of what it’s like to both practice and reside in the community,” Harlovic said.

The recruitment department works with nationally known recruitment firms, attends physician recruitment events held throughout the Northeast and has established connections with many of the area’s medical school residency programs, he added.

Harlovic said a new tool is a professionally produced recruitment video that showcases not only the benefits of providing care locally, but also of the local community.

“The Oswego Health website (www.oswegohealth.org) is another tool that we have found successful in recruiting physicians,” he noted.

Addressing mental health

Oswego Health is developing a new $17 million behavioral health services facility that will be built specifically to provide this specialized care.

The state-of-the-art facility will offer a centralized and convenient location for patients and clients to access both behavioral health and primary care services.

“We recognize that many of our BHS patients also suffer from underlying health conditions that can best be treated by a primary care provider and we want to ensure we are meeting all their health care needs,” Harlovic said.

The BHS site, to be located at the former Price Chopper store on East Cayuga Street in Oswego, was selected for its close proximity to Oswego Hospital and its emergency department and is another convenience for patients, clients and medical providers, the Oswego Health leader said.

In addition to the clinical settings, throughout the completely renewed building there will be numerous patient comforts, including secure outdoor spaces, comfortable interior areas and a kitchen area, Harlovic said.

“The building itself will be attractive and well-maintained,” he said. “The facility will surely become a model for similar health care providers throughout the country.”

Added amenities at hospital

Oswego Hospital’s third and fourth floors will be renovated to offer private rooms with their own bathrooms that offer a hotel-like feel.

Harlovic said Oswego Health sees this project as offering comforts that its patients deserve.

“We are excited to announce this $7.6 million investment, a project that quite frankly is overdue,” he said. “For about the last 10 years, we have been renovating facilities in Fulton and Central Square, as well as key hospital departments.”

Harlovic said now Oswego Health has the opportunity to completely renovate its medical-surgical floors of the hospital.

“This project allows us to provide community members with the most comfortable private patient rooms that feature their own complete bathroom,” he said. “Our patient rooms will promote healing in that with just one occupant, the spread of infection is reduced. Other advantages include improved privacy and a quieter, more restful environment.”

Reaching out to Novelis

In collaboration with Novelis, Oswego Health recently opened an Oswego Health PrimeCare office onsite at the Oswego plant, offering convenient care for its employees, their family members and retirees.

“We have found this collaboration to be extremely successful,” Harlovic said.

Since Oswego Health began offering health care at the Novelis plant in 2017, it has expanded both the hours and services as patient volumes grew.

Earlier this year, Oswego Health has expanded to offer care five days a week and recently also began delivering services to not just Novelis employees, but their family members as well as company retirees.

“Along with providing convenient care, we have added online registration for appointments and on-site physical therapy services. Our goal is to keep Novelis employees healthy and productive,” Harlovic said.

As for offering similar care to other companies and businesses in the area, Oswego Health is “very interested in building services that meet the specific needs of employers in Oswego County.

“We will work with a company or business to identify their onsite health care needs and develop a program that can include any number of work-related services,” he said.

Harlovic said according to a national journal, companies that offer onsite primary care services benefit in terms of improved health, lowered health care expenditures, and improved productivity.

Meanwhile, the collaborative Healthy Highway program is helping to combat Oswego County obesity.

Oswego Health is collaborating with the Oswego County Health Department, the Shineman Foundation and the county’s nine school districts on an initiative to reduce the childhood obesity rate in Oswego County.

The county’s childhood obesity rate is 38.7 percent, compared to 32.2 percent statewide, according to HealtheCNY.

The Healthy Highway program is being implemented in all 24 elementary schools in Oswego County.

Through the program, children learn that it is important to “fuel” their bodies with “green light” foods and to limit their “red light” food choices.

“It’s all incorporated into a variety of activities to reinforce healthy choices, which is being applied throughout the schools,” Harlovic said. “The program also offers many activities to promote physical exercise.”

Individual school activities have begun and each school has its own designated program champion, who is supported by health educators from Oswego Health and the county health department.

To carry this message home, the elementary students were provided with an activities book that includes activities they can do with their families.


6. Manufacturing

Despite skills gap challenge, Manufacturers Association of Central New York optimistic about progress in 2019

Wolken
Wolken

State-backed economic development projects in Central New York have the highest return on investment than any other region in New York state, according to Randy Wolken, president of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York and the Manufacturers Alliance of New York.

Wolken is entering his second year as co-chairman of the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council.

“It was a wonderful year for the region,” said Wolken, who noted the CNYREDC received the highest distribution of funds at more than $88 million in 2018.

The CNYREDC’s return on investment as calculated by New York state is nearly 13 to 1, which is the highest ratio of any region.

“We have a great group of projects and a great community effort, and I am looking forward to rolling into the next round of consolidated funding awards which the governor has proposed,” Wolken said. “These are real shots in the arm to communities and businesses as they intend to grow and helps them do it here.”

Being chairman of the REDC allows Wolken along with his team the opportunity to see the broad impact of all kinds of investments in the business community.

“When I am out and about, whether it is in my role at MACNY or my community role, it allows me to emphasize the need to continue to invest in our future,” he said.

Of the projects given funding in the latest Consolidated Funding Application round, several look to energize the manufacturing sector in CNY.

PPC Broadband in DeWitt — a manufacturer of connectors used in broadband networks — took advantage of $11.3 million in Empire State Development grants and Excelsior Jobs Program tax credits toward creating a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to expand existing operations.

“Whenever we can get an existing company to grow here, it’s a really good investment for New York state, especially if they are adding space and people,” Wolken said.

Meanwhile, Northeastern Electronics in Elbridge — a manufacturer of electrical cable and wire harnesses for a variety of industries nationwide — also received CNYREDC support as it looks to construct and equip a new facility adjacent to its existing two facilities.

Also, SAF-GLAS, LLC — a leading provider of disaster resistant and security glass products worldwide — was given $8 million in state money to relocate its operations from Florida to Onondaga County.

Saf-Glas would have to invest $58.9 million and create 303 jobs over five years in exchange for the state aid. Its project is the largest of the CNY initiatives in terms of jobs pledged.

Currier Plastics in Auburn, meanwhile, received CNYREDC funds to provide training to its existing employees to equip them with skills required to meet the standards of its medical market customers.

Another significant investment in manufacturing involves All Seasonings, whose expansion is expected to, Wolken said.

Meanwhile, All Seasonings Ingredients in Oneida is purchasing machinery and equipment that will allow it to meet the growing demand for its products, which include spices, herbs, nuts, seeds, baking supplies and flavor blends.

Wolken said to expect the project to spur additional growth around it.

As far as Oswego County is concerned, Wolken noted the EJ USA project that involves the company relocating its operations to the Oswego County Industrial Park in Schroeppel looks to benefit from being centrally located and having access to major transportation venues.

“That business park would be prime for additional organizations and companies that want to be involved in the transportation network that Oswego County is obviously a big part of,” Wolken said.

Growth expected in 2019

Some economic experts in the region noted last year that economic optimism in the region was “muted.”

Wolken said to expect a year of growth in 2019.

“The only damper sometimes is finding people so they can take on all those orders and grow,” he said.

“I am hearing a lot of optimism and excitement,” said Wolken, noting “there will be some bumps in the road, like people still sorting through the trade agenda and how they are going to navigate through that. It has yet to have any meaningful impact.”

Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly more apparent that high-tech sectors, advanced manufacturing and the use of automation are key drivers for the U.S. economy.

Wolken said CNY is already seeing the impact of these trends.

“It bodes well for employment as we continue to need skilled labor and to grow,” Wolken said. “But automation has not reduced the amount of employment,” contrary to what naysayers claim.

“If you look at current investments in automation technology, it has not really diminished the number of people working,” he noted. “If anything, it has increased the amount of skills sets and the amount of workers we need.”

Wolken said he does not see that as changing.

“I wish the doomsayers would stop saying every job is going to get automated. This isn’t true. People value their employees more than ever and need skilled workers to run complicated pieces of equipment,” he noted.

“We are seeing some strong growth and need for employment even as we continue to automate,” he said.

Confronting skills gap

MeanMACNY continues to close the skills gap that is plaguing counties such as Oswego.

MACNY’s recently introduced manufacturing intermediary apprenticeship program is starting to pay dividends. MACNY has New York State Department of Labor approval to function as a single “program sponsor” acting on behalf of small and medium-sized manufacturers across the state.

More than 40 companies have now established apprenticeships under the program, and more than 100 apprentices are benefitting from the initiative.

Wolken expects that number to triple over the next year or two.

MACNY is also promoting the apprenticeship program on a statewide level through the Manufacturers Alliance of New York.

“There is a strong desire for skilled learning and development, specifically in apprenticeship space,” said Wolken, noting the program features a three to four year schedule for participants.

Wolken said apprentices in the program start off at $12 to $15 an hour and move to $25 to $30 an hour over the course of three years.

P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School) is also a popular recruiting tool for employers.

“We are seeing a strong desire for companies to get involved with students as early as middle school,” Wolken said. “We are really beginning to grow our own workforce here in Central New York.”

Wolken said career technical education is growing, and “there is even talk of a STEAM school (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) in the Syracuse area.

SUNY Oswego, the Center for Instruction, Technology & Innovation, Oswego County and the New York State Teacher Centers are partnering to bring STEAM quest camps to Oswego County.

Additionally, the Central New York School Board Association recently co-located with MACNY at its Widewaters Parkway site in Syracuse.

“We are doing partnerships now across 54 school districts, and I really think this [closing the skills gap] has to happen at the high school and even down to the middle school level,” he said.

Interaction in schools includes a focus on skills development and exploring job opportunities that exist in Central New York.


7. Tourism

New Destination Points Enhance Tourism Appeal in Syracuse Region

Destiny USA complex: It’s the No. 1 destination in Central New York, according to Visit Syracuse, an agency that promotes tourism in the region. Photo provided.
Destiny USA complex: It’s the No. 1 destination in Central New York, according to Visit Syracuse, an agency that promotes tourism in the region. Photo provided.

Being that the tourism industry equates to about an $863 million economic impact for the Syracuse region, local leaders want to ensure that visitors get a bang for their buck.

Thanks to additional events and venues, they are doing just that.

Danny Liedka is the president and CEO of Visit Syracuse, an affiliate of CenterState CEO that serves as Onondaga County’s official tourism promotion agency.

Liedka said the top-five destination points for visitors in the Greater Syracuse area are:

• 1. Destiny USA

• 2. The Great New York State Fair

• 3. Syracuse University

• 4. State and county parks, including Lakeview Amphitheater

• 5. The OnCenter complex, including the War Memorial Arena

In terms of the impact the amphitheater has, Liedka said concert dates over the last two seasons have resulted in hotels experiencing substantial growth in rates and occupancy.

He said 2018 was a record year for visitors to the Greater Syracuse area.

He noted the United States Bowling Congress event held in Syracuse from January through July last year attracted more than 60,000 visitors to the area and created an economic impact of more than $55 million.

He noted the fair had a record year attendance-wise.

“If you conservatively estimate that 10 percent of fairgoers come from out of the area, that would be well over 100,000 visitors,” he said.

When measured against 2017 from the hoteliers’ point of view, occupancy and room rates grew around 6 percent in 2018.

Optimism flowing

Liedka said 2019 should be another strong year.

For the first time in more than 12 years, the city will play host to the 113th annual New York State Association of Fire Chiefs Conference and FIRE 2019 Expo at The OnCenter June 12-15.

The new $62 million Exposition Center at the fairgrounds was unveiled last year. The 136,000-square-foot facility is hosting a myriad of events and shows.

Liedka said the addition of the center will draw many new groups and conventions to the area, and will be the site of the inaugural Winter Fair 2019 Feb. 8-10.

“Visit Syracuse will unveil new marketing efforts to promote the revival of the area in regards to new facilities that are related to tourism, such as the Lakeview Amphitheater, the Marriott Syracuse Downtown [former Hotel Syracuse], and the Expo Center, to name just a few,” he said.

In addition, Liedka said Visit Syracuse continues to promote the region’s “incredible craft beverage trail that has been a great draw.”

The organization is also in the midst of creating a tourism improvement district that will help the Syracuse region generate the necessary revenue in order to be competitive with other cities in the state that are funded at a much higher level.

The mission of TIDs is increasing the number of overnight visitors using business and services in that area.

TIDs are formed through a public-private partnership between local government and businesses in a district. An organization such as Visit Syracuse normally manages funds.

If successful, the Syracuse area will become the first in New York to create such a district.

More than 300 exist around the United States, but only two are located in the Northeast, those being in Philadelphia, Pa. and Newport, R.I.

“This level of funding will allow us to grow tourism in the region and generate new tax dollars for Onondaga County,” he said.