Allegany County Responds to Economic Changes with an Optimistic Outlook

Allegany County
Written by Nate Hendley

It’s been an interesting year for Allegany County, New York, a scenic region located in the Allegheny Mountain foothills. While very rural, Allegany boasts three post-secondary institutions, a world-famous center for ceramics, college of technology and a highly skilled workforce. Profiled previously in the December, 2017 issue of Business in Focus, Allegany County remains eager to attract new businesses while retaining its bucolic charm.
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First, however, the most challenging news: in February, 2018, it was announced that the Dresser-Rand plant in Wellsville, NY, a long-time manufacturing mainstay, would be closing. “They were a legacy company, here over 100 years making steam turbines,” states Craig Clark, Executive Director of the Allegany County Industrial Development Agency (ACIDA).

The Dresser-Rand facility had been producing steam turbines for 135 years in total. Siemens, which owns the plant, sold the facility’s government-related work to the Curtiss-Wright Corporation who will be moving that operation to South Carolina. Siemens plans to relocate Dresser-Rand’s remaining commercial operations to various locations across the United States over the next two years, and the Wellsville closure will lead to the eventual loss of about 180 shop positions. The engineering and support staff are staying in the Wellsville area.

County officials are seeing this as an opportunity and staying positive, with the ACIDA talking to companies and site selectors about attracting new businesses to set up in the well maintained, soon-to-be-empty facility. “About 400,000 square feet of space is going to be available. We have cheap municipal electrical power in Wellsville and a great, highly skilled workforce,” states Clark.

That great workforce stems in part from Allegany’s position as a hub of post-secondary education. As of July 1, 2017, the county’s population stood at 46,894 residents, down a bit from 2010 when the population was nearly 49,000, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. Allegany supports three academic institutions – Alfred State College, Houghton College and Alfred University. Academic specialties include ceramic and glass manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, engineering, skilled trades, construction, agriculture programs, various health related programs and information technology.

Enrollment at these three schools tops 7,000 students. Some 1,600 students graduate a year and help account for a local workforce that’s both skilled and highly educated. According to ACIDA information, nearly three-quarters of Allegany workers aged 18 to 24 have attained “college-level training at the associate degree level or higher.”

“The biggest reason [for a business] to be here is the workforce. All three colleges turn out some of the best skilled workers around,” states Clark.

This isn’t civic boasting – these local schools offer some top-ranked programs.

The 2019 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings show Alfred State College coming in at No. 5 on the Top Public Schools list for Northern Regional Colleges. ASC was also listed as No. 1 among SUNY regional colleges. The college occupied the number three spot on a list of Top 50 Veterinary Technician Programs for 2018 compiled by the website, thebestcolleges.org. ASC is consistently ranked high in all their STEM related, applied technology and health related programs by bestschools.org.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has included $6.6 million in his proposed 2018 budget for an initiative to attract more investment and prosperity for the state’s Southern Tier. Alfred State College (ASC) is leading the effort for this new Biorefinery Development and Commercialization Center (BDCC) for a sustainable solution to build a new forest economy. This grant was in addition to other funds secured from federal and state sources. Once it’s up and running, the BDCC will use a hot water extraction process to remove chemicals from wood chips and pulp to develop biodegradable plastic, biofuels, wood and fuel pellets, and more.

“The whole Center is now fully funded,” Clark shares. “We’re in the process of conducting the design work for the facility. There’s a lot of specialized equipment that still has to be designed. We have a building that’s already up and basically needs to be retrofitted. Next summer is when we propose to begin the construction, which will mean reconfiguring an existing building and installing specialized equipment.”

For its part, Alfred University, another nationally ranked college, houses the world-famous Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT). This is supported by faculty and graduate students in biomaterials engineering, ceramic engineering, materials sciences and engineering and glass science. The Center conducts leading-edge research on ceramics and glass with industry partners. CACT’s main areas of focus include electronic ceramics, bioceramics and glass, advanced manufacturing processes, and computer modeling and simulation. Programs range from engineering to arts, business and professional degrees, and from bachelor’s to doctoral degrees.

Houghton College is a nationally ranked Christian liberal arts college. The college has been approved to start an electrical engineering program in the fall of 2019 which will draw students to this area. Houghton’s growing online presence will include a new major in Criminal Justice to begin in January of 2019. The college is a net importer of talent to this region, drawing nearly 40 percent of its students from outside of New York.

On top of an educated population, the county offers incentives, such as property tax breaks, to lure companies to the region along with Empire State Development offering incentives based on job growth and retention. There are certain businesses ACIDA keeps in mind when prospecting for firms. “Based on the feedback we’ve received from site selectors, Allegany County is targeting industries like advanced manufacturing (metal working), ceramics, packaging, distribution and call centers,” says Clark.

In contrast to the Dresser-Rand situation, some local employers such as Saputo Dairy Foods USA are booming and creating new jobs. Saputo has a big presence in the Allegany area, producing sour cream, cheese and other products. “Saputo is doing very well. I know they’ve hired in the range of about 70 people over the last couple years. We’re talking to Saputo about how to support them if they need to expand,” states Clark.

Other projects in Allegany include a multi-phase, multi-million dollar construction initiative called the Crossroads Development. The Crossroads Development would involve “a nationally branded hotel, a fuelling station and restaurant. We’re also talking about a small conference center. The next phases could see some commercial and manufacturing facilities,” reports Clark.

The hotel in question would be a Tru by Hilton, a new brand from the famous chain. The county has earmarked roughly 23 acres of land where the hotel and other ensuing facilities could be built. Ground-breaking for the hotel is set for summer 2019.

The fuelling station and a possible truck stop would benefit travelers on Interstate 86, a major highway serving Allegany County. Allegany is also serviced by a municipal airport, rail lines and New York State Route 417 and Route 21.

Clark is asked why a family would want to move into Allegany County. “Why most people stay or visit is the experience of the outdoors, but they choose to stay, at least in part, because of our safe communities,” says Clark. “Our communities are rural and close-knit, so it’s a nice location to make your home and raise children, start your business, play outdoors, and learn at some of the best public schools in the state.”

A low cost of living is another major attraction to the area. According to the Census Bureau, the median value of an owner-occupied housing unit in 2016 was a very reasonable $72,100, while median household income in the same time period was $44,085. Two medical facilities – Cuba Memorial Hospital and Jones Memorial Hospital – provide healthcare services for residents of the county.

Outdoor recreation remains as popular as ever in Allegany County. The region is well-known for its hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking trails and places to ski, fish, hunt, play golf and engage in water sports. Tall Pines ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) Park has also proven to be a big draw and is one of the largest All-Terrain parks in the region.

“It’s a four-wheeling destination. You can see vehicles coming from all over western New York and out of state. There are 70 miles of well-maintained trails there. They’ve had concerts and a Tough Mudder event where you have to run an obstacle course. The only time they’re closed is during hunting season [in the fall],” reports Clark.

In addition to outdoor recreational opportunities, Allegany County boasts a series of ongoing community events. Popular attractions include the RidgeWalk & Run, the Great Wellsville Balloon Rally, Cuba’s Garlic Festival, and a trout derby. Such activities “are all still active and growing every year. Quite a few people are coming to those events,” states Clark.

In terms of promotion, Allegany County utilizes social media to entice companies and residents and work closely with the Site Selectors Guild. The latter is a self-described “association of the world’s foremost professional site selection consultants” who connect community-based economic development organizations with companies looking to expand or relocate. “We have engaged with site selectors to review the county and prepare key industry market segments for business attraction to Allegany County.”

Allegany County Office of Development staff also regularly attend the annual SelectUSA trade summit in Washington D.C. As organized by the Department of Commerce, SelectUSA trade summits expose companies and communities to direct foreign investment opportunities. Clark just took part in the most recent SelectUSA trade summit in June and the German Hannover Messe, the world’s leading trade fair, in April.

All of these efforts are designed to meet what Clark says is the biggest challenge facing Allegany County: to get the word out. “Most development prioritizes urban centers or suburban centers and we’re neither; we’re quite rural. But the lifestyle here is better with a lower cost of living and lower cost of business operations. The support mechanisms are better and we have a great workforce. The key is increasing awareness of these advantages of a rural community, which we’ve begun promoting to small and mid-sized companies.”

Ideally, economic development will kick-start residential development. County planners would support seeing an additional 2 – 3,000 residents in Allegany in the near-future.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’re only [around 47,000 people] right now, so that’s actually quite a bit of growth. The goal is to start working towards growth. The only way that’s going to happen is by expanding some of our own companies as well as getting one or two small to medium-sized companies to invest in the area” in the county, states Clark.

One main focus remains finding new tenants for the soon-to-be-empty Dresser-Rand plant. As mentioned, county officials are working hard to convince a new company, or companies, to occupy the space when Dresser-Rand departs.

Regarding the plant closure, Clark says, “Although it’s a negative impact, one – we’re recovering and two – I think the future still looks bright. We still have a very highly trained workforce and now we have a fairly large facility that was under-utilized before that we’re going find a way to get fully utilized. That facility is 400,000 square feet. There are some opportunities there. We were successful when GE-Lufkin left town by replacing them with PM Research in that newer facility and we are confident we can do the same in the Siemens-Dresser Rand facility.”

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