JOHNSTOWN - U.S. Rep. Bill Owens told area business representatives Wednesday he wants to hear their opinions and work with them to improve the region.
Owens, D-Plattsburgh, met with local leaders at Fulton-Montgomery Community College to get a better idea about the problems in the two counties.
He stressed the importance of such meetings and said he strives to interact with the people in the newly formed 21st Congressional District, which he represents.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, left, takes notes as James Mraz asks questions during the business leader roundtable Wednesday at Fulton Montgomery Community College.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
"I like a dialogue even if you tell me things I don't want to hear," he said. "I need you to give me information ... [I'm here] so I can be educated about the area, so I can help, but more importantly, so we can work together."
Owens' district includes all of Fulton and Hamilton counties and portions of Herkimer and Saratoga counties, among other areas. He was re-elected to Congress in November.
During the 90-minute Fulton County Roundtable with Local Business Leaders, business representatives asked Owens about the committees he's involved with or wants to be a part of.
The group also talked about veterans returning from service who are failing to find jobs, Medicare issues and other topics.
Local architect David D'Amore asked the congressman who works for him and what they do.
Owens said he has seven aides - four in Watertown, two in Glens Falls and one in Plattsburgh.
"You have seven people representing 750,000 people," D'Amore said. "The odds aren't in our favor. They may not be ready for the capacity of the people in the district. It seems the power is small that we'll have the opportunity to address the [smaller] conversations."
Owens assured D'Amore he addresses the issues sent to him via email, letters or phone.
He said he doesn't hear from many of the people in his district and that 60 percent to 80 percent of them don't take a position.
"If we're not hearing from people, we're going to assume it's OK," Owens said.
FMCC President Dustin Swanger said he's concerned about higher-education standards.
Owens said that is something that needs to be looked at.
The congressman also addressed the job market and explained he often hears there is a disconnect between jobs available and the skill sets available in a given community.
He said a lot of people are working toward the idea of matching employers and employees.
Laurence Kelly, president and CEO of Nathan Littauer Hospital, said he was pleased Owens took the time to answer questions in the community.
Kelly said he has met Owens a few times before, and he always makes an attempt to talk with representatives when he gets the chance.
"It's great that he's taking the time to come during his recess to this area, this district, and talk to us," Kelly said. "It's really setting up a way for us to communicate with him. When you know someone, it's easier to pick up a phone or answer an email - if you know him or his staff - rather than a congressman that you don't know."