The annual meeting of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation drew a packed house of 180 representatives from local businesses, government, education and the nonprofit sector to Kozel’s Restaurant in Ghent Tuesday morning.
David Fingar, chairman of the corporation’s board of directors, opened the presentation and welcomed the audience. Fingar was elected chairman in January, succeeding former chairman Tony Jones, who retired earlier this year after five years of service heading up the board.
“Tony brought incredible expertise, skill and passion to his leadership role and has left CEDC well-positioned for continued success in the years to come,” Fingar wrote in the annual report, which was unveiled at the meeting.
Corporation President and CEO F. Michael Tucker then took to the podium and spoke of the importance of diverse groups working together to spur economic growth, and he outlined what the corporation has done in 2018 to encourage growth.
“Succeeding in growing an economy requires ongoing collaboration between a wide range of voices, viewpoints and opinions, including our federal, state and local elected officials, leaders in businesses, government, education and the not-for-profit sectors, community groups and county residents,” Tucker said.
Columbia County has a wide-ranging span of industries, Tucker said, from agriculture to the arts and tourism, hospitality, manufacturing and service businesses, among others.
The organization updated its strategic plan for generating economic growth in the county, including promoting loans that give business owners access to affordable capital, and serving as the county’s designated broadband coordinator. Over the past couple of years, the county has seen expanded broadband access, Tucker said.
“Thanks to public and private investment in recent years, we’ve enjoyed a significant increase in high-speed internet access to homes and businesses in our community,” Tucker said, adding that improvements have also been made to other infrastructure, including water and sewer, gas and electric, public transportation and housing, to promote a growing and viable economy in Columbia County.
To provide employment opportunities for local residents, the corporation in 2018 introduced Workforce Development and Education initiatives, including two job fairs held at Columbia-Greene Community College — in conjunction with Columbia-Greene Media and Columbia-Greene Workforce NY — with hundreds of job seekers and more than 60 participating employers.
Other initiatives in 2018 include the awarding of more than $1.3 million in Regional Economic Development Council grants, and a $2.8 million grant to replace wastewater infrastructure at the Gerald R. Simons Commerce Park in Ghent. In 2018 the CEDC administered 12 microloans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, along with six CEDC loans, for a total of $360,000, aiding business owners in the Twin Counties, according to the corporation’s annual report.
Seventy small business owners also received free technical assistance through the programs, and 11 entrepreneurs completed the corporation’s microbusiness seminar series, according to the report.
The event’s keynote speaker was Hugh A. Johnson, chairman of Hugh Johnson Advisors, LLC. He discussed the country’s economic outlook for 2019 and 2020, analyzing national market trends and activity, national unemployment rates, consumer spending and the prospect for a coming recession.
Also addressing the meeting were Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Stockport Town Supervisor Matt Murell, Hudson Mayor Rick Rector; and Mike Yevoli, regional director of Empire State Development and executive director of the Capital Region Economic Development Council.