New Opportunities in Rural New York
Cattaraugus County, NY
Nestled in New York State’s scenic uplands, Cattaraugus County is an idyllic panorama of sparkling lakes, snowcapped hills, pristine forests, and rolling farmland. “It is a very picturesque place,” says Corey R. Wiktor, Executive Director of the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA). “I know it sounds cliché, but we let the area sell itself.”
The region is a well-known tourist magnet, drawing visitors from both the United States and Canada to enjoy a wealth of outdoor recreation and two popular ski resorts. The largest ski resort in New York State, Holiday Valley boasts fifty-eight slopes, 13 lifts, four terrain parks, Holiday Valley Tubing Co., a half pipe, and a children’s program. SkiMag readers ranked the resort #3 of all the top ski resorts in eastern North America for the 2015-2016 season. Holimont is the largest private ski and snowboard area in North America devoted to family adventures and has been in business for over half a century,
Outdoor adventurers also flock to Cattaraugus County to explore Allegany State Park. Spread across 65,000 stunning acres, the park’s 18 hiking trails are ideal for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and snowmobiling. Filled with rural countryside and dotted with fresh water lakes, the county’s hunting and fishing opportunities also attract plenty of tourists.
The rural community is remarkably close knit. Families have deep roots here, with local histories that stretch back for generations. “That is what makes it outstanding,” Mr. Wiktor points out. “It is not transient; there is no turnover. You know your neighbor.” And, while many people associate New York State with the hustle and bustle of New York City, the closest thing to rush hour in Cattaraugus County is when traffic slows to allow a deer to cross the highway. The cost of living is also much lower than the state’s metropolitan areas. “It is a very affordable place to live.”
Cattaraugus County is rural, but it is not isolated. The community is well connected to several major cities, putting the population of 79,000 in easy reach of surrounding business opportunities. “We are located close to major areas of population in the northeast.” Buffalo is an hour’s drive away, while Toronto, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh are no more than three hours away.
The county’s major industry is manufacturing. “We are home to some world-class manufacturers,” says Mr. Wiktor. Nearly a dozen manufacturers operate within the community, including Cutco Cutlery Corp, “one of North America’s largest cutlery producers,” and Dresser-Rand, “a global leader of compressors and equipment involved in the gas and energy business.”
The county is eager to attract even more manufacturers. “We are working very hard to bring in advanced manufacturing. We want to continue to grow that base.” The key to this effort will be to provide advanced manufacturers with the skilled labor they need. Fortunately, traditional manufacturing bases such as Cattaraugus County have a large number of experienced machinists. “At the end of the day that is what keeps major employers in rural areas. Some of these companies could be anywhere, but the quality workforce [keeps them here].”
The community is building an advanced manufacturing technology center to ensure that the local workforce maintains the skills advanced manufacturing requires. Located on the Jamestown Community College campus, The Manufacturing Technology Institute’s (MTI) new, $7.5 million building is currently under construction and is expected to open this fall.
MTI is a unique partnership between the college and regional industries. “We are putting the private and public sectors together and creating this center of excellence,” Mr. Wiktor explains. The state of the art, 20,000 square foot facility will provide a simulated manufacturing environment filled with the latest and most advanced machines, giving students hands-on experience and helping them connect with local manufacturers.
Students from all walks of life are welcome at MTI including non-traditional students, the long-term unemployed, and recently displaced workers, as well as recent high school graduates. The program is creating new opportunities for young people, encouraging them to stay in Cattaraugus County rather than taking their talents elsewhere. “We want to teach trades and retain our youth and our students that ultimately want to get a good career but feel they have to go elsewhere. You don’t have to move away.”
MTI does not just train these young people – it teaches them that manufacturing has the potential to provide a solid, lifelong career. Modern manufacturing facilities are light-years away from the traditional factory environment – and potential employees need to recognize that transformation. It is imperative, Mr. Wiktor says, to show today’s youth that manufacturing is “not dirty or dangerous or below the threshold of a white collar job. These jobs pay very well and students are starting to realize that those skills are very tangible skills. They are highly desirable skills.”
In the end, everyone benefits from MTI’s efforts. Students graduate the program with a two-year degree, ready to work at high paying advanced manufacturing jobs. Manufacturers save time and money because new hires are already trained. And the county retains the next generation, keeping the community strong. “This is going to be our growth in the next ten years, 20 years, 30 years,” Mr. Wiktor says of advanced manufacturing. “We have to prepare our students to gain those skills that those employers require. The U.S. as a whole is going to need skilled labor so we are putting a lot of emphasis on training and understanding the technical side.”
Healthcare is another important local industry. “Our healthcare sector is growing and expanding its services,” Mr. Wiktor reports. Oil and gas is also a significant local industry that continues to expand. “It is a big employer, a big tax base.”
Holimont is also investing more money in the community with a $20 million expansion project that will create new runs and lifts. In addition, a number of the county’s municipalities are in the midst of downtown redevelopment projects, “revitalizing historic villages and downtown storefronts. We probably have roughly $15 million of net business redevelopment from that.”
Another area of increasing potential is Cattaraugus County’s burgeoning beverage industry. The community boasts two new microbreweries and another one in the works. Small, mom and pop startups like these that are the backbone – and future – of the county. “At the end of the day, I do see our growth coming from the people who have founded their businesses here and see the beauty of it and want to stay here – businesses that have grown from two people to five people to 20 people. We have a number of those success stories and I really think that is where our growth is going to occur.”
No matter how much growth and development comes to Cattaraugus County, the community is committed to maintaining its charming rural character. “We are allowing our communities to grow and develop with the 21st century, but not lose that character and that rural aspect that is very much desired here,” Mr. Wiktor summarizes. “We want that balance – that is the special thing about this place.”