Oneonta and Natural Gas Development Go Together
The Town Board in the Town of Oneonta, New York (Otsego County) met Monday morning to discuss economic development in the Oneonta area and we were there. It was one of those “missing the elephant in the room” moments. Incredibly, some, though not all, Town Board members in attendance asked everyone not to discuss natural gas exploration because it was “out of their hands.” This is the same tack we sometimes see other fence-sitters taking when discussing natural gas and economic development (Senator Seward comes to mind). They want to pretend economic development is a separate issue, as if this wasn’t the most important economic opportunity for Upstate New York in a lifetime.The meeting opened with Town Board members making statements to the public. It seemed several of them did understand the importance of fostering the developmnet of a new industry in the area, even if they weren’t all prepared to get behind natural gas. Some board members, in fact, reminded the public they need to keep their minds open and realize what the area really needs, which of course is jobs.
Others emphasized that Oneonta needs to be open for business at a time when the rest of the economy continues to falter.
One member of the Town Board astutely noted some residents will always be against everything that’s deemed to be “new” — whether the project happened to deal with natural gas, wind, housing developments, and pretty much everything else. He asked, “How can Oneonta grow when there are several people against everything? The area simply cannot afford to stay status quo. Let’s join together and find viable solutions to our desperate times!” Wise words, indeed.
Board members asked the public to make suggestions. What can Oneonta do to encourage economic development? What will make Oneonta an area where businesses want to locate, send their staff and their familes, and ultimately expand?
Some individuals decried the fact their children were leaving the area because there are no opportunities for them once they have graduated. High school students graduate, move on to college, and do not return to the Oneonta area after they complete their college education — a classic example of “brain drain.” They find new locations to settle down and raise families because those opportunities don’t exist locally. The population moving in tends to consist of senior citizens. One woman discussed how she and her husband both secured state jobs. This was the only reason they could afford to move from downstate up here and make a living, but, unfortunately, there are not enough state jobs available for everyone and, of course, this perfectly illustrates why natural gas development is so critical, although some people couldn’t seem to make that relatively simple connection.
An aging and declining population won’t attract businesses in the area — and, by definition, isn’t sustainable over the long-term. Natural gas development, however, can turn that around things for many businesses that otherwise wouldn’t be able to succeed in the area.
Also discussed was the tremendous drop in school attendance throughout the years. This proves the previous point. The number of people returning to the area after completing their education is very low.
As mentioned in the above video, population decline even impacts the health sector. The area will see the number of quality doctors it is able to employ and support also decline with such a large decrease in population.
Another thing mentioned was the deterioration of family farms. Farms used to spread across the region, from one mile to the next. We don’t see this in the area anymore. Why? With the expenses that farmers are enduring, it is near impossible to keep their heads above water. If they could lease their land and earn royalties, local farmers could buy new equipment and fix up their farms. These farms then could be passed from one generation to the next.
How could natural gas exploration help Oneonta? A couple members of the audience discussed it briefly. The jobs the industry will bring to the area will allow graduates to stay in the area, begin a career, and start a family. By doing this, the school attendance would increase and local businesses would grow and prosper. With employment comes health insurance, which will also help to keep quality doctors practicing in the region.
Oneonta’s story is one that can be echoed throughout Upstate. Towns across the region need an economic stimulus and they can’t afford to wait another 3 years to get it.