By Fred Stabbert III
Town of Delaware Supervisor Ed Sykes sat back in his seat last Wednesday night, looking his...
Good evening and welcome honorees, members, directors and guests. As we celebrate the 20th year of the existence of the Sullivan County Partnership, I want to take a minute and talk about how we came to be, what has been accomplished over that time period, and what we will be doing to position Sullivan County for success tomorrow.
The Partnership began officially in 1994, born from an ad hoc committee of the Chamber of Commerce. At the time the economy mirrored in many ways, what it is today, having begun a recovery from several recessionary years. Our second home industry fractured, our remaining large resorts were at the tail end of their existence, and yes we were pushing for casinos in Sullivan County. The private-public model after which we were formed worked seemingly well and today across the nation it has proven to be one with successful outcomes time and again. The beginning was difficult with private sector members reaching into their pockets to put together enough seed money that could be matched by the county and the Sullivan County IDA. I was informed that in the beginning some years fell short of the minimum. You see, in Sullivan County we are one of few economic development organizations unique in that no contracted dollar is provided without private sector investment first. Names like Gerry, Rhulen, Rosen, Keesler, Gitlin, Ernst, Skoda, Leventof, and Kaplan, and many more believed in the core mission they established back then — and it is the very mission we live by today. It is no surprise since you have all experienced their involvement, not only in the Partnership, but also across multiple boards and the organizations they have served and continue to serve to this day.
We have experienced an array of chairman. Again, Ernst, Skoda, Klugman, Drapkin, Rhulen, Sommers, and Stabbert, familiar names to us all, each with their own individual leadership qualities, as they have been the cornerstones of much of what we have worked hard to preserve, to grow, and to cherish in Sullivan County. The road has been hard traveled, with brief periods of success followed by what seems to be many challenging years. As a rural county, the task is much more difficult here than in much more populated areas. Lack of infrastructure, sites, and commercial tax base lost with the tourism collapse are challenges making the job to attract new investment and expansion ever more difficult. There have been many successes. Kohl’s, Nonni’s, Formaggio, Ideal Snacks, Crystal Run Health Care, D.C. Welding, We Ship Express, and others. We have nurtured small businesses and have our fingerprint on many small businesses operating throughout the county; Names like ADM Interiors, Morgan Outdoors, Dancing Cat Distillery, Prohibition Distillery, Tonges Cheese, Eureka Café, Liberty Fitness Center, Brandenburg Bakery, and many more. Unfortunately, with all of the volunteer hours, financial investment, promises of development, and creative programming, we find ourselves scratching for every dollar and job we can create. A recent story in the Times Herald-Record revealed that year to year from 2013 to 2014 Sullivan County lost 200 jobs while surrounding counties gained jobs. So it is easy to ask is what we have been doing all in vain? Is this a mountain to steep to climb? That mindset to me is just unacceptable. So I had to find out for myself are we helping in any way … are we doing enough. I looked at businesses we have assisted over our existence to so see what the impact has been. During that same time period the county lost jobs, Partnership-facilitated businesses gained 111 jobs. Over the years those businesses are responsible for thousands of jobs and millions in investment and economic impact to the county. And so the question should be, where would we be without those businesses, and with out the difficult task to facilitate projects in Sullivan County for twenty years. This organization does make a difference. Together with our strategic partners we take on those challenging projects, often having to be much more creative to make them work here as opposed to other areas. The mission began 20 years ago is as important today as it has ever been, and I stand here proud to be given the opportunity to help it succeed in years to come.
We choose to live here in the majestic Catskill Mountains. Yes, majestic. While we may often take it for granted, all it takes is an outsider to remind us of the beautiful area in which we live and work. And so ours is to forge ahead and continue this marathon, to continue try and to do those things that can make us more competitive in the future.
There can be no better example of this than the effort made this past year to secure a resort destination casino, excuse me — two resort destination casinos in Sullivan County. Along with our partners, the county, the Sullivan County Visitors Association, the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, all of our local municipalities — especially the host Towns of Liberty and Thompson — but most importantly the Sullivan County IDA. We pooled our limited resources, working together as Sullivan United and put our best foot forward to make the case for Sullivan County. I believe we will be successful as a result.
If you would bear with me for just a while longer … I want to underscore the great work that the staff, general council, and the board of the Sullivan County IDA does day in and day out to not only support economic development in Sullivan County with the myriad of tools they administer, but also with a level of business expertise and sense of urgency needed to position this county for success. You may not all know this but this agency worked long and hard, through weekends, through public scrutiny, investing in professional support and ensuring crucial statutory deadlines were met at that last hour to ensure our projects were as competitive as they could be. Our relationship with the IDA has been hand in hand throughout our 20-year existence. To use a baseball analogy, no surprise to some of you I’m sure, look at the Sullivan County Partnership as the starting pitcher. Hand us the ball and we will take you deep into the middle innings. We will work with our strategic partners like the county, and our professional members, to score runs and get us to the ninth inning before handing the ball off to our version of Mariano Rivera, the IDA, to close the deal. And they do just that. Ed Sykes, Charlie Barbuti, Sandy Shaddock, Suzanne Loughlin, Sean Reiber, Steve White, Carol Roig, Howard Seigel, Jennifer Brylinski, and Jennifer Flad. Thank you for a long-standing partnership and may we continue to work together for another 20 years to come.
At the risk of not recalling everyone, I also want to thank specifically individuals that have worked diligently with us this year on many efforts during the casino effort. Chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature, Scott Samuelson, who has been the composed, methodical, and steady one keeping us focused on the goal; with our group that was no easy task. Chairman of the IDA, Ira Steingart, who took immediate action to direct IDA resources to hire professionals, to assist us with economic development issues. Jonathan Rouis, who worked to provide funding for the Capacity Consulting Study we have used time and again. Walter Garigliano, who by the way was the one sending those emails at 2:00 o’clock in the morning and was the brains behind MO² and our team presentation at the Siting Board Public Hearings. Roberta Lockwood, Cathy Patty, Randy Resnick, Teri Ward, Guy Baker, Steve Vegliante, Amy Goodstein, Steve Kurlander, Alan Keston, Supervisors Reiber and Barbuti, our local union shops, WSUL and Thunder 102, and the many volunteers who helped us with Citizens for NYS Gaming, our SEQRA Conference, the Sullivan United event and many more initiatives we worked on this past year. Thank you Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Senator John Bonacic, who both have been champions of Sullivan County for many years more so this year than ever before.
I want to extend a special thank-you to our immediate past Chairman Fred Stabbert, who has guided the Partnership through some very challenging years, in fact three, and leaves the organization healthy, energized, and with a clear direction for the future. Thank you, Fred, for your service.
The future looks promising. Talk to any engineer in the room and they will tell you they have been extremely busy this year. Is it a sign of things to come? I believe it is. They are the ones on the front lines of development. Sure, I am an optimist. I want that same feeling we had last fall when Proposition One passed. I expect to get it again. But there are other projects taking place in the county. Veria Lifestyle Management, Lost Lake, Serenity Gardens, and others providing much needed jobs to residents and businesses today. In 2015 the partnership will be focused on the development of shovel-ready sites, the lack of which has hurt this county for far too long. We must catch up to our competition and position our county to be ready for what the market demands if we expect to move the needle to the positive relative to tax ratables, jobs and investment. We have begun that process and look to improving our existing sites as well as maximizing Start Up New York at SUNY Sullivan to be responsive to anticipated development moving forward. We will continue to work with our sister agencies to promote small business development, membership education, and those issues pertinent to economic development. In truth, the work has just begun.
Finally, we are here tonight to celebrate those whose allegiance and steadfast commitment to the mission of the Partnership has been unwavering throughout its existence. Their names and organizations have been prominently displayed here tonight. Despite the many challenges we have faced as a rural county, these dedicated members and directors have never wavered, always available, with their time, their financial support, and their expertise. Without your dedication and long-standing service, the Partnership would not exist today, and by extension the good works that have taken place throughout these past 20 years. On behalf of the Board of Directors, the staff, the 220-plus members that followed you, and members who have recently joined us, we thank you.