County pursues multiple economic projects

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County never has had so many economic development irons in the fire at one time, officials say.

County government and local development agencies are pursuing a number of simultaneous projects designed with one main purpose – to bring in more jobs to stimulate the local economy.

“There’s a lot going on,” said Fulton County Planning Director James Mraz. “There’s a number of initiatives we’re advancing. We’re trying to expand the tax base.”

Mraz, also executive director of the Fulton County Industrial Development Agency, is involved in many of the initiatives.

“There’s a belief amongst the county Board of Supervisors that now is the time to be investing to create jobs,” he said. “Fulton County’s budget situation has improved.”

Some of the new job efforts also involve cooperation with Montgomery County.

Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer calls the situation an “explosion of interest and enthusiasm.”

“I think in the past year, things have really reignited,” Kilmer said.

Here are some of the economic development initiatives now under way:

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on July 8 hired Environmental Design Partnership of Clifton Park, Saratoga County, for $50,000 to design a system to possibly consolidate all water and sewer services within the county. That firm is gathering information to design a model for the system. Many county officials say a countywide system – dubbed the SMART Waters project – would spur the local economy, creating more business and lowering property taxes.

The IDA recently started the state Environmental Quality Review process for redevelopment of the former Tryon Youth Detention Facility in the towns of Perth and Johnstown into a proposed Tryon Technology Park and Incubator Center. The agency is trying to secure a deed for the 515-acre Tryon property from the state. The initial project includes construction of new access roads and a stormwater collection system, and the renovation of sewer pump stations.

A “regional business park” idea for Route 30A is being resurrected after going nowhere the last few years. Fulton County supervisors have considered setting aside $150,000 next year as a capital project toward creation of the 300-acre park for Fulton and Montgomery counties. The idea for the park has been to build it on town of Mohawk land and have water and sewer services provided by the city of Johnstown. Mohawk and the city have been unable to reach an agreement. At the start of the year, new Johnstown Mayor-Elect Michael Julius and new Mohawk Supervisor-Elect Edward Bishop take office, and they could start new negotiations.

Another Fulton County job-creation initiative involves looking at restarting rail service on a stretch of the abandoned FJ&G Railroad bed between Fonda and Johnstown to benefit economic development.

The line would run through the proposed regional business park. Rail service recently was discussed during a two-day visit this fall to Fulton and Montgomery counties by international site selector Michael Mullis of Memphis, Tenn. The consultant offered various suggestions to local officials, including the importance of rail service to economic development. Mullis indicated 72 percent of businesses coming in want a site with rail service.

Fulton and Montgomery counties are involved in “branding” projects. Fulton County supervisors in October authorized a contract between the county and the Montgomery County IDA to hire North Star Destination Strategies of Nashville, Tenn., to develop a brand for the two counties. The “community blueprint” is being done for economic development marketing purposes at a total cost of $46,000. Mullis recommended the two counties develop an identifiable name and logo for the region to make it more recognizable.

Fulton County government has strengthened its ties with the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, with supervisors now on the CRG board. The CRG, meanwhile, is involved in several new marketing initiatives.

Mraz says the renewed cooperation has “certainly been a great working relationship.”

Mraz’s planning department has been asked by Fulton County legislators to identify sites of at least 200 acres that could be developed into possible shovel-ready areas for economic development. Mraz has said the southeastern quadrant of the county is the “primary target area” – east of the Glove Cities and south of the Great Sacandaga Lake. That is the ideal area, he said, because it offers the most growth potential and best access. He said the properties would be near state highways such as Routes 30, 30A or 29.

Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Dustin Swanger, who also is chairman of the CRG board, said job creation probably will take time, but he said the course is set.

He said the efforts actually began a few years ago with a regional business plan done by Fulton and Montgomery counties.

“It’s not at all sitting on the shelf,” Swanger said of the plan.

He said he meets regularly with Mraz, Fulton County CRG President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Reese, as well as Kenneth Rose, chief executive officer of the Montgomery County Business Development Center, Kilmer and Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel. Swanger said they talk about the regional plan and how to move it forward.

“One of the initiatives is marketing and joint marketing,” he said.

Kilmer said new local companies also are creating jobs. The C.G. Roxane water bottling plant in the town of Johnstown recently started its operations, and the Fage USA yogurt plant at the Johnstown Industrial Park is expanding.

Kilmer said the chamber continues to work with the CRG and Rose’s business center to show potential companies the area is “very attractive.”

Mraz said all the new developments are keeping him busy.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for me, incredibly busy,” he said.

Michael Anich can be reached at