HORSEHEADS - Leaders of the I-86 Innovation Corridor Initiative presented an update Wednesday on ongoing business development efforts taking place in Steuben, Chemung and Schuyler counties.
They reported positive results since the initiative was created in 2015 and are optimistic about the economic future of the area.
One of the reasons for optimism includes approximately 145 projects in business, infrastructure and other areas currently underway or completed, and approximately $60 million in state funds brought into the area, leveraging millions more in private investment.
“I think the most important thing that we presented today is there are a lot of amazing projects happening,” said Betsey Hale, President of Three Rivers Development Corporation and a member of the I-86 Innovation Corridor Steering Committee. “There’s a lot of real estate development happening in the three-county region, a lot of economic development, there's infrastructure that’s being repaired - whether that’s sewer, water, roads [or] bridges.
“And when we don’t look at things collectively -- when we only look at them in our little hometown and our own county -- we really don’t see the importance of the three counties working together; how we share our labor [pool], how we share our [shoppers].”
Some of the successes the group touted as part of the initiative include the massive Amtrak contract at Alstom Transportation in Hornell and DeMet’s 100,000-square foot expansion in Big Flats, among many others.
Going forward, the group has prioritized three areas for growth in business development: renewable energy, hemp and battery technology.
Further improving quality of life in the area so that businesses and organizations can attract talent to their ranks will be key to future business development, officials said. Attracting quality candidates for the local workforce is one of the challenges the initiative faces.
“What we found out, especially in the area of workforce development, is that we really need to be working to attract talent here, to attract young people here, and young families here,” said Hale.
The Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes partnered with Austin-based Avalanche Consulting to assess the quality of life in the Elmira-Corning and southern Finger Lakes area, and pinpoint what residents tend to value and what they feel should be improved.
According to Randi Hewitt, president of the Community Foundation, residents throughout the community tend to value arts and culture, education, community development and civic affairs, and employment.
Two areas identified as being barriers to higher quality of life in the area are lack of access to public transportation and high-quality affordable childcare. Many of those who responded reported they have trouble acquiring these services throughout the region.
The assessment also found that while poverty wasn’t an acute problem regionally, there are certain neighborhoods that are struggling. The Community Foundation noted some communities in the Elmira-Corning and Finger Lakes area where the poverty rate exceeds 50 percent.
The regional poverty rate overall is approximately 15 percent, which is similar to the national average.
However, of the 949 responses to the assessment, Hewitt said more than half of people in the area felt that their communities are culturally vibrant, and are significantly more likely than the national average to visit historic sites, theatres, museums and events in the arts and culture space.
In education, 85 percent of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the school they send their children to. Ninety percent said they were satisfied with local teachers. The Finger Lakes region is also higher than the statewide average in high school graduation rates, but is lagging when it comes to college-educated adults in the local workforce.
When it comes to employment, Hewitt said respondents overall felt more confident in the local economy than the national economy, despite the local economy actually lagging behind the rest of the U.S. statistically. Despite that, fewer than 18 percent surveyed believe the area has strong employment opportunities.
Seven-five percent of respondents reported they had strong social connections in their community, and 85 percent reported volunteering in their communities in the past 12 months.
But the area scores lower than national volunteering trends when it comes to youth mentoring and sports coaching.
“We’re doing a lot of volunteering, but we’re leaving behind some of our kids' groups that need us the most,” said Hewitt.