County learns what it needs to be a contender for businesses

PHOTOGRAPHER:
Nationally-recognized site selectors Dennis Donovan, Jay Garner and Jim Renzas give their take on Fulton County at a forum Friday at the Johnstown Holiday Inn. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Three international site selectors told Fulton County officials Friday that the county has several assets, but is lacking in other areas such as large core buildings for industrial use.

The county, Fulton County Center for Regional Growth and National Grid sponsored a Site Selector Advisory Forum with three site selectors at the Holiday Inn. The guests — who spent Wednesday through Friday in the county — were: Dennis Donovan, Jay Garner and Jim Renzas. They are three of only 43 nationally-recognized site selectors.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead, who introduced the site selectors, called their visit an “important step” for county development.

“These folks have a tremendous amount of knowledge they’re bringing into our community,” he said.

Garner, president of Garner Economics, LLC of Fayetteville, Ga., said Fulton County is “well represented” by strong leadership.

“It’s actually survival of the fittest,” he said. “It’s all about finding skilled talent.”

Garner said Fulton County has experienced a 3.1 percent population drop from 2010 to 2016 — a “red flag” to site selectors.

“I was very well impressed with your products,” he said, including industrial parks and educational institutions.

But Garner warned about local officials regarding the Tryon Technology Park in Perth as a “panacea” to solve economic difficulties.

“It’s going to be a long row to hoe for success for that type of park,” he said,

Renzas, principle of The RSH Group, Inc. of Mission Viejo, Ca., stated: “My visit here in Fulton County opened my eyes quite a bit for a county of this size. You guys are doing a fantastic job.”

Renzas said the county’s strengths are “this group” of local officials and business leaders. He said another major asset is the food processing plants in Fulton County, which would include yogurt, cheese and sausage factories.

“I think you have a lot of strength in that area,” he said.

He said the county also has many water and sewer system assets.

Renzas said it is “critical” that local officials bring the regional business park project on Route 30A in the town of Mohawk to fruition.

“It will give you more product to offer in the future,” he said.

He termed Tryon a “big site and a beautiful site” that also needs much work.

Renzas said companies are used to leasing available large industrial buildings, which he said Fulton County appears to lack. Not having such sites is a “fatal flaw” that will cause developers to skip over Fulton County and go to the other 3,140 counties in the United States.

Donovan, principle at Wadley Donovan Gutshaw Consulting of Bridgewater, N.J., praised the Fulton County Airport and the proximity to the state Thruway. But he noted a lack of rail service and also brought up the lack of what he called “shell buildings” for industry to instantly access.

He said he didn’t get to see the former call center on Church Street in Gloversville that is now vacant, but said such buildings can be an asset.

“You’re infrastructure capacity is amazing,” Donovan said.

And he said agriculture in Fulton County can also serve as “fodder for more industries.”

Donovan said Fulton County remains a “micro-metropolitan” area.

“I think your training resources here are second to none,” he said. “The range of incentives you can bring to the table are good to bring in deals.”

But Donovan said the lack of available buildings, and a lack of diversity in the workforce may hurt in the future. He said the county is above the national average in workers without a high school education.

Donovan also said the CRG should be spending more money on marketing, not less. He said if the agency isn’t spending at least $160,000 “you’re not going to be as successful as you need to be.”

He said the county needs shell buildings to house 75,000 to 150,000 square feet.

“We did not see an incubator [building],” he added.

Donovan urged Fulton County to band together with other counties to do regional marketing.

He said he liked the downtown marketing, urging more of that to promote “farm-to-market” goods.

“There’s a real opportunity there,” he said.

Donovan added that Fulton County has the ability to do more packaging, such as for plastics, metal and sporting goods. He said the county would be “ideal” for those areas.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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