Director Austin Wheelock reflects on his first few months on the job and talks about a shift in strategies
By Stefan Yablonski
Things are moving fast on the economic development front in Oswego County. Austin Wheelock, the new executive director Operation Oswego County, is leading the charge to keep everyone ahead of the curve. He recently discussed his first 250 days as the agency’s new leader.
Operation Oswego County and the IDA were successfully led for almost 40 years by L. Mike Treadwell, who retired at the end of last year. “While I learned so much from him about economic development since I began with the organization in 2006, my leadership style is different and with guidance from our board, several of our priorities have shifted — Micron preparation initiatives and increased stakeholder collaboration are examples — which has required adaptation from all. I appreciate the support that the board and staff have provided me and look forward to continuing to lead economic development efforts for Oswego County,” said Wheelock, who has been at the helm since January.
“We are doing well. I think that it is interesting that when it became public knowledge that I was going to be executive director [Oct. 3] and the very next day [Oct. 4] Micron announced [its expansion in Central New York],” he said. “So we have had to adapt. You have to come in thinking, ‘hey this is what we are going to focus on.’ And then something like that happens — you have to change focus very quickly!”
“It’s been good; economic developers, stakeholders in Oswego County — everybody from OOC to the IDA, the county itself, our workforce partners — everybody is working together probably better than we ever have,” he continued. “We all realize that this thing is bigger than any of us, we really do need to work together to be able to achieve the best outcome for Oswego County.”
There are so many needs right now — everything from manufacturing, the supply chain side … everything, he pointed out.
“You are looking at population growth in Central New York. You are going to have a large construction base in Central New York for probably close to a decade between Micron and all the other supporting ancillary businesses.
“We are looking at opportunities everywhere. Really there are opportunities for new hotels, apartments and housing development to new commercial development. This isn’t just Oswego County; it is going to be focused on all of Central New York. If we play our cards right and make the right decisions in terms of development of sites and promotion of assets, we can end up doing pretty well.”
Wheelock thinks that 2023 got off to a very good start.
Down in the industrial park in Schroeppel there is a new company, E.J. Prescott Inc., moving in. They are an infrastructure supplier in the water business. They will be moving into the space that was occupied by Otis Technology. They are making a consolidation to another site and Prescott will be coming in.
“That shows the strength of the real estate market in Oswego County. That building didn’t last on the market longer than I’d say two or three weeks,” he said. “Prescott should fully be in there by the end of the year or early next year; creating about 10 new jobs down there as well as supporting other jobs.”
It shows that there is going to be a market — “a strong market — for infrastructure and specialty contractors in Oswego County related to industrial and commercial development. Not necessarily related to Micron sort of stuff, but because of the opportunity that it is creating. There is a lot more opportunities for development directly and indirectly,” Wheelock said.
The area is seeing investment and a lot of interest from companies that are looking to try to get into Oswego County — southern Oswego County as well as some other areas — but they really want to get here before everything really starts to move, he added.
Daldrop is getting ready to move in. They are taking a little bit longer, but they are getting closer. They are doing their final approval with the town of Schroeppel. They are going to build a 32,000 square foot manufacturing facility in the industrial park in Schroeppel. They manufacture clean room components.
Irby Utilities, a distributor of electrical parts and equipment, relocated to the old can plant building near the former Miller Brewery in Volney in the spring 2023.
There is also growth of other small manufacturing companies, Wheelock said, citing one that is looking to expand and OOC is working with them to facilitate them putting on a 10,000 square foot expansion. That will add another 10 jobs or so down there, he noted.
“Companies are seeing that coming to Oswego County is a smart decision. We are trying to stay ahead of it in terms of having land ready — shovel ready and ready for companies to come to. It’s a good problem to have.”
“As we get closer and these things all start to snowball, I think you may see some local towns that haven’t been used to the type of development that may be coming — they will have to increase their capacity; their zoning boards and planning boards, those kinds of things,” he said.
There is still some time before Micron is going to be starting construction; they are looking at 2024 to start, Wheelock noted, adding “We need to promote best and highest use for our real estate. Up here in Oswego County, we want to make sure we are aware of what’s going on so we are prepared for that spinoff development and demands — there is some pressure, but it’s not pressure in a negative way.”
Oswego County needs to be ready, he emphasized.
“If we don’t have sites that are ready, that have infrastructure and are suitable for new building, then people are going to skip right over us and go to the next county or region over,” he cautioned. “So, it is our job to make sure that we are putting Oswego County in the best position to attract and expand companies by providing shovel-ready sites, providing a ready trained and willing workforce and making sure that we are addressing any other what I would call bottlenecks or obstacles for new business to develop and expand.”
OOC is truly collaborating this year with its partners — “we really have to. We can’t solve these things on our own. We really need to work together and make sure we are all pulling in the same direction. We are very committed to collaborating with all of our partners from the private sector as well as the public sector,” he said.
ConnextCare is moving into the old education building in Oswego, for example. It’s a more visible and accessible location; it’s larger and will allow them to provide more care.
“That is a project that we are working with them on,” Wheelock said. “We help facilitate — we aren’t the ones who create the jobs — we help people do that. We just help those who are doing it get it done and be successful.”