Fulton County working to rebuild local economy: Times Union

Officials market low costs, infrastructure to attract companies, people

 By Robert Downen, Originally published in the Albany Times Union

In their quest to reverse economic downturn, Fulton County officials are focusing on three words: Live, work and play.

By 2026, they hope their county will attract residents who want to do all three.

Once the epicenter of the upstate leather industry centered in Gloversville, Fulton County has steadily watched economic opportunities dwindle as niche manufacturing jobs go overseas.

Since 1970, the number of people directly and indirectly employed in the leather trades has dropped from 10,000 to 400, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

“These businesses employed towns,” Johnny Evers, director of government affairs at the Business Council of New York State, said at a seminar on Fulton County economic development Tuesday,

Now — and hopefully, with buy-in from local business leaders and elected officials — county officials are hoping they can transform the area into a hotbed of growth by attracting businesses and young people alike.

Boosters believe they have the resources both in infrastructure and human capital. The question is how to get people to use them.

The pitch is simple: Cheap cost of living, coupled with the factory buildings left over from the heyday of manufacturing, should make Fulton County immediately attractive to those seeking metropolitan amenities at a discounted rate.

“Upstate New York is a beautiful place to explore and enjoy, but in many areas the cost of living can be too high,” Jim Mraz, Fulton County planning director, said in August. “In Fulton County, that’s not the case, and that’s something we’re proud of.”

Add in a low crime rate, a new focus on regional partnerships and the county’s location in the middle of myriad nature destinations, and officials are confident they “can establish Fulton County as one of the Capital Region’s premier economic and residential destinations,” said Charles Potter, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors.

Since undertaking the development initiative called Jump Start Fulton County in 2014, officials have focused heavily on luring new businesses and young workers to shovel-ready sites.

Fulton and Montgomery counties at that time brought in Mike Mullis, a corporate site selector, to assess the region’s ability to attract large corporations. Mullis identified seven clusters on which the counties should focus, with biomedical research and development, food and beverage services and health care products among them.

By reorienting towards such high-tech sectors, officials hope they can use their location in the middle of what they’re calling the “Tech Triangle” of New York as a selling point. (Both Utica and the Capital Region tout significant biotechnology sectors, and Albany was rated last week as the most friendly place to do business in New York by Forbes).

A cornerstone of that strategy is the Tryon Technology Park in Perth. The 515-acre park, once occupied by the now-shuttered Tryon Detention Center, has been the focus of the Fulton County Industrial Development Agency. Last year it moved in its first tenant, medical marijuana company Vireo Health.

“In the greater Capital Region, there’s a tremendous amount of human capital,” Vireo CEO Ari Hoffnung said in September. “There’s a lot of talent.

“We want to bring back more (than the 325 jobs) that were lost (at Tryon).”

County officials are also banking on growing agricultural industries statewide.

Since 2000, gross domestic product from upstate New York’s dairy sector has increased by more than 38 percent, to more than $600 million, according to the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth.

In this region alone, international yogurt makers Fage and Chobani have created more than 1,650 jobs, making New York the No. 1 yogurt manufacturing state in the country.

rdownen@timesunion.com • 518-454-5018 • @Robert_Downen