Growth in local forecast

Officials say a renewed sense of optimism and cooperation may drive area economic development and business activity upward in 2014.

They say that attitude – coupled with what they hope will be a rebounding economy – will pick up Fulton and Montgomery counties this year.

Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer said he interviewed his membership, including service, retail, agricultural and manufacturing sectors, about what they expect in 2014.

“Everybody is envisioning a bump,” Kilmer said. “Things are looking very, very good.”

Fulton County Center for Regional Growth President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Reese is positive as well, but is keeping an eye on the economy.

“I’m just hoping we see the economy move forward a little,” Reese said.

Reese says he sees the current expansion of the Fage USA yogurt company at 1 Opportunity Drive in the Johnstown Industrial Park, which may be done in 2014, as a shining example of a positive for Fulton County. The company itself is largely financing its $120 million expansion, expected to create 150 jobs. Company officials said they plan to double production with a new building, largely increasing Fage’s 240-person work force. The project includes an addition, new parking lot and a whey pretreatment plant.

“I think having the Fage company [expansion] coming to a conclusion at the end of 2014 will be a big thing,” Reese said.

He said he is talking with another potential company that wants to move to Fulton County and process Fage’s whey byproduct.

There is also renewed interest in Fulton County moving on a proposed regional business park between Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Reese said that project will again be pursued in 2014.

The 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. New Johnstown Mayor-Elect Michael Julius and new Mohawk Supervisor-Elect Edward Bishop take office today, and they could kick-start negotiations.

Montgomery County also has a new county executive, Matthew Ossenfort.

Another 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.

On the retail end, Gloversville will continue to reap the sales tax revenue benefit of a full year of the new Walmart Supercenter on South Kingsboro Avenue. In the city of Johnstown, the new T.J. Maxx department store is scheduled to open by April.

In Montgomery County, there is also optimism for 2014.

Montgomery County in December gained state awards for 12 projects. They include a $1 million award toward the planned Deer Run senior assisted-living center housing project; $800,000 to retro-fit the Hampton Inn in Amsterdam; and $200,000 to improve the Erie Canal RV Resort Campground, a 125-site campground with amenities in St. Johnsville bordering the Mohawk River.

“We see a lot going on,” said Kenneth Rose, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and Planning.

He said there are more projects being worked on by his office that he can’t divulge details about yet. But the 12 new project awards will go a long way toward improving the economic climate of Montgomery County in 2014, he said.

“We have quite a few projects in the works,” Rose said. “We’re really excited with the projects we have announced.”

Rose said a good thing about the projects are that they are a nice mix of private business and municipal projects spread across Montgomery County.

For example, from the private end, Mohawk Resources Ltd. will be doing a $250,000 project to relocate, renovate and expand into a 55,000-square-foot facility.

The village of Canajoharie will receive $600,000 to implement improvements to its local water system.

Rose said another exciting project for his county to market involves Fonda Speedway.

“The new promoter is doing a lot of work down there,” Rose said.

He was referring to Matt DeLorenzo, who will be the promoter at the Track of Champions in 2014. He noted Fonda Speedway will host the East Coast Snocross series Jan. 11 and 12.

Reese said 2014 will also get off to a great start if Fulton County can start developing and eventually market the former Tryon site.

The Fulton County Industrial Development Agency is redeveloping 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. An initial project planned for 2014 includes construction of new access roads and a stormwater collection system, and the renovation of sewer pump stations.

Reese said it would be advantageous if one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new “tax-free zones” were set up near Fulton-Montgomery Community College..

Cuomo is creating tax-free zones across the state for new and expanding businesses. Under that initiative, businesses can operate 100 percent tax-free for 10 years, with no business, corporate, state or local taxes, sales and property taxes, or franchise fees.

Reese is also excited about the CRG’s new deal involving the main part of the Estee Commons building on North Main Street in Gloversville. The Gloversville Common Council on Dec. 3 gave its support to a proposal to build affordable senior housing at part of the Estee Commons complex. The council approved the terms of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Liberty Affordable Housing, the project developer.

The developer wants to construct an additional 35 one-bedroom units on the Estee Commons property to provide affordable housing for seniors. The other rental units already at the site would remain conventional rental properties.

“I think there are signs of economic recovery,” says CRG board Chairman Dustin Swanger, also president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College. “It’s slower than everybody would like.”

But Swanger said Reese and Rose continue to communicate with each other and many outside people “looking at our area” for business opportunities.

“I’m seeing more and more people working together to move forward the economic development in the area,” Swanger said.

He said he’s met with Ossenfort and is excited about new partnerships involving both counties. He said there will be even more chances in 2014 for the CRG to work with Montgomery County.

Other initiatives being pursued this year include both counties.

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. It is being done so the two counties develop an identifiable name and logo for the region to make it more recognizable, officials said.

Fulton County government has strengthened ties with the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, with supervisors now on the CRG board.

The Fulton County Planning Department is working on identifying sites of at least 200 acres that could be developed into possible shovel-ready areas for economic development.

Swanger’s college in December also announced it is in the mix of new business activity. FMCC?is planning a roughly $12 million development on about 145 acres adjacent to the college. The project would address the increased need for more campus housing, spur economic development and meet social and cultural needs of the community, the college says.

Michael Anich can be reached at