February 2016: Business Briefcase

MILESTONES

Watertown Chamber names award winners

The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce recently announced recipients of 2015 Business of the Year awards. Recipients are Krafft Cleaning Service (for-profit, more than 50 employees), Children’s Home of Jefferson County (nonprofit, more than 50), RBC Wealth Management (for-profit, 50 or fewer) and United Way of Northern New York (nonprofit, 50 or fewer). The recipient of the Farm & Craft Market Vendor of the Year award, which recognizes vendors for their accomplishments at the Watertown market on Washington Street, is Coyote Moon Vineyards, Clayton.

Awards will be presented during an annual awards presentation and luncheon at 11:30 a.m. March 3 at Savory Downtown, 300 Washington St.

The awards are designed to recognize Jefferson County businesses and organizations that have invested in the region and achieved economic success. Recipients were selected by a committee composed of a diverse group of business leaders.

To register for the awards luncheon, contact the contact the chamber at 788-4400 or events@watertownny.com.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Schumer urges more funding for EDA vital to job creation

Sen. Charles E. Schumer has revealed that hundreds of job creating applications to the U.S. Economic Development Administration go unfunded each year, and he’s pushing to make the pot of funding bigger.

Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that the EDA is unable to fund nearly 800 applications nationwide each year because it doesn’t have enough available funding. He has urged federal appropriators to significantly increase EDA funding this year, according to a news release from the senator’s office.
The EDA offers grants for a range of projects such as sewer upgrades, business incubators, industrial parks and regional innovation plans. Grants are provided to local and state governments, economic development agencies and nonprofits.

Though EDA funding plays a critical role in economic development, there is only enough funding for a fraction of the applications received each year, according to data from the senator’s office. In 2013, for example, the administration received 1,476 applications totaling about $2.5 billion. But because the agency only had $183.4 million to spend, it was able to fund 670 applications.

In a prepared statement, Mr. Schumer said that although EDA grants can provide “a real shot in the arm” for upstate New York communities, “job-creation opportunities are missed because the agency has been shortchanged for more than a decade. A worst-case scenario is when a community has done the hard work of attracting a new company to their backyard, but the business decides to move somewhere else because the EDA application for a modest infrastructure improvement was stalled.”

During the last few years, the office said, more than 100 unfunded grant applications were submitted to the EDA for projects in New York. A handful of those applications were submitted by applicants in the north country. In St. Lawrence County, from 2011 through 2014, there were seven unfunded grant applications, totaling about $4.2 million, and no funded applications. Over the same period in Lewis County, there were three unfunded applications, totaling about $2.5 million, and no funded applications; Jefferson County, meanwhile, had no unfunded applications and received a $55,000 grant.

In Jefferson County, one project that could eventually be eligible for EDA funding is the business park being planned at Watertown International Airport in the town of Hounsfield. The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency has already spent more than a half-million dollars on preliminary studies for the proposed park. It has acquired roughly 100 acres in the area.

David J. Zembiec, deputy CEO for the JCIDA, said he’s pleased that Mr. Schumer is pushing for more EDA funding.

“We’d probably look at putting funding toward running infrastructure to the park,” he said.

RETAIL

Outlet mall in the works Near Fort Drum

A Miami developer is considering building a 600,000-square-foot outlet mall with a multi-purpose arena near Fort Drum’s main gate off Route 11 in LeRay, according to the town supervisor.

LeRay Supervisor Ronald C. Taylor said the developer, whom he declined to name, has met twice during the past six months with town officials to discuss the possibility of building the massive outlet mall and arena on property near Walmart Supercenter off Route 11.

The project, which the developer has estimated would create roughly 1,500 jobs, would be located between Taylor Road and Gould Corners Road on property owned by California developer Fidelity American Holdings Corp., Mr. Taylor said. The company owns 347 acres on the north side of Taylor Road. That mile-long connector links Johnson Road at the Walmart intersection to Kestrel Drive, which leads to Eagle Ridge Village.

About six months ago, Mr. Taylor said, Fidelity decided to abandon its plan to build a 304-unit townhouse complex at the site called The Commons at Fleming’s Farm. Fidelity bought the property in 2005 from Lyle C. and Eleanor B. Fleming, who operated a dairy farm there for 44 years.

Mr. Taylor said that Linda W. Luther, principal for Fidelity, decided not to move forward with the townhouse project because of the abundance of new rental housing in the Watertown area that was built in recent years to meet the demand at Fort Drum.

He said that Fidelity, which had planned to invest $55 million to $60 million on the project, postponed breaking ground due to the uncertainty of potential troop cuts at Fort Drum. The town approved the site plan for the project in June 2014.

“She held off last year to see what sequestration was going to do to Fort Drum,” Mr. Taylor said. “But now most people will say there’s already substantial housing in Jefferson County, so why build another 300 units? There are apartments for rent everywhere and the occupancy is low.”

Mrs. Luther did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
Mr. Taylor said the Miami developer expressed reservations about how Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal and the weak Canadian dollar could affect the project. The governor’s proposal would gradually raise the current minimum wage by $6 an hour, peaking at $15 in 2021.

A water line is already available on Taylor Road for the site being eyed by the developer, Mr. Taylor said, and a sewer line is in close proximity. He could not say how the developer would plan to have traffic flow in and out of the site. But he noted that Taylor Road was not built to accommodate a high volume of traffic.

Mr. Taylor said it is possible the developer could explore building an interchange for the mall off Interstate 781, a 4.8-mile highway linking Route 11 to Interstate 81 through the towns of LeRay and Pamelia. The highway, also known as the Fort Drum connector road, opened in December 2012.

— Ted Booker