The Chemung County Chamber of Commerce will hold its 25th Annual Economic Forum this Wednesday, February 28th at the Holiday Inn Riverview beginning at 7:30 AM. The event is open to the public, and registration can be made here.

The 2018 Economic Forum comes at a particularly interesting time, as Chemung County’s fiscal health is under increased scrutiny from many different sources.

Without question, people who choose to live and work in Chemung County want to see our area thrive like many other communities located in rural America have begun to do over the past decade. But, getting to that point requires us to fully acknowledge and accept how serious the local economic picture has become, and adopt a new way of thinking in order to propel Chemung County forward.

An article published online on February 23, 2018, by Binghamton’s Press & Sun Bulletin entitled “Binghamton, Elmira play economic catch-up after years of decline” points to several sobering statistics:

*Elmira is losing private-sector jobs at the highest rate in New York state, nearly 3 percent over the past year, and has recorded a 6 percent drop since 2008.

*Personal income growth since 2008 in Elmira was half the United States national annual average for metro areas of 3.2 percent, according to numbers compiled by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

 *Since 2008, Elmira’s population has declined by annual compounded rate -0.3 percent.

It went on to question what steps are being taken to translate monies awarded by New York State into meaningful economic recovery for Chemung County:

Questions quickly arise about the infusion of economic dollars — $500 million for the Southern Tier in the Upstate Revitalization Initiative; $481 million for the eight-county area in regional economic development awards…and; $10 million to Elmira for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Where and when will the impact of those program be realized?

A link to the article is found here. (When the article appeared in the print edition of Elmira’s Star Gazette on February 25, 2018, the content remained the same, but the title was changed to “Area Rebuilds a Fragile Economy.”)

Questions about the translation of state aid into sustainable job creation were also raised last December by Tom Tranter, President of Corning Enterprises, and Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger.

Tranter and Stenger serve as regional Co-Chairs of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, a group that exists to create long-term strategic plans for economic growth in our area. Ten regional Economic Councils were created in 2011 by Governor Cuomo as public-private partnerships made up of local experts and stakeholders from business, academia, local government, and non-governmental organizations. A list of the members of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council is found here.

According to an article published in Binghampton’s Press & Sun Bulletin, the Southern Tier received the least amount of economic funding in 2017 of all ten regions.

Tranter stated that identifying economic projects that result in job creation needs to be our area’s top priority, but “we haven’t had any really big job projects.” Stenger echoed those sentiments, stating that the group ” really (has) to double down and work a little harder.”

A link to the article is found here.

“Elmira, Binghamton play economic catch-up after years of decline”, linked above, includes a quote from Mike Krusen, who serves as both president of the Elmira-based Southern Tier Economic Development organization and Chemung County’s Deputy County Executive. “We have to change the mindset,” said Krusen, “We have to get the people to change from feeling that we’re flat on our back to we are in a turnaround.”

This type of cheerleading can yield positive results, as a positive attitude goes a long way toward encouraging people to invest the time, energy and resources needed to begin turning things around in the Southern Tier.

But, we also need to be realists.

It only takes a quick drive across Elmira or a review of the types of statistics cited above to realize Chemung County is still facing very tough times. The reasons why we got here are plentiful, and the path forward – with increased manufacturing automation,  continued brain drain of our youth, and a growing violent crime problem that serves as a deterrent to investment – is anything but clear. Our leaders need to openly acknowledge where we are economically, and genuinely work together with each other and the community to discover creative solutions.

Hopefully Wednesday’s Forum will be a good opportunity for all of us to get a better idea of where things stand, and figure out how we can best help out.

Christina Sonsire