Out of many, one
By Jonathan F. Rouis
When I became chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature earlier this year, I knew that if my colleagues in the legislature and I were going to be successful in building a better Sullivan County, we needed to change the way things had always been done, particularly with regard to the county’s economic development plans.
Whether it was the prospect of casino gaming or some other initiative, it has often seemed to me that Sullivan County is waiting for one grand catalyst that will spur the economy county-wide.I think first and foremost we need to get away from that type of thinking. Despite our size, Sullivan County has diversity among its communities. What works in Thompson or Liberty is not the economic development model that would work for Fremont, Tusten or Neversink; nor would we want the same type of development for these communities. We need to consider the communities we have, and the goals of their residents, and create one unified plan.
We have a number of agencies to help make this unified plan possible. I appreciate that we have dedicated Community & Economic Development and Center for Workforce Development staffs here in Monticello, and I also recognize and appreciate the efforts of our four outside economic development agencies: the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency, the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce and the Sullivan County Visitors Association.
However, with six different entities, there are six different approaches to economic development, as well as six sets of goals and missions. I believe in order to move our economic development agenda forward, in order to bring sustainable, responsible development to our county and to have residents who are trained for these new jobs, these entities must work together, in name and action.
The Sullivan County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) would serve as the umbrella organization, and would co-locate the organizations at a new building in the Emerald Corporate Park. By having one location instead of six, Sullivan County’s economic development clients can obtain marketing, workforce development and business assistance in one location, rather than traveling from Liberty to Monticello, to six different offices.
Furthermore, with the EDC co-locating and staffing the six entities, we can dramatically reduce current redundancies. One office, with one rent payment and one set of office equipment would ensure that we can offer new and existing economic development clients the most professional services possible.
I am also advocating that we explore education as an economic development tool. Right now, Sullivan County is home to the healthcare cluster of Crystal Run Healthcare, The Center for Discovery and Catskill Regional Medical Center. All three of these businesses are growing, and between them will offer several hundred new jobs over the next 18 to 24 months. It must be our collective priority to ensure our local community college and workforce development agencies are offering the training and education our residents need to obtain these new jobs, which will pay a living wage and offer the health benefits so many of our residents need.
In the immediate future, we will begin meeting with all of the agency directors and board chairs to begin collaborative efforts, including the creation and implementation of the county manager’s proposed branding campaign, which will unite government, not-for-profit and for-profit entities under one Sullivan County brand, as well as the exploration of state and federal grant opportunities to make broadband internet solutions throughout the county.
(Jonathan F. Rouis serves as chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature and Legislator for District Four, which includes the Town of Mamakating and the Village of Bloomingburg.)