MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello (R-Irving) delivered his first State of the County address on Wednesday, but it could have been just as well been called the “State of the County’s Businesses” address.
During the monthly meeting of the Chautauqua County Legislature, at the Chautauqua Lake School auditorium, Borrello spent nearly 25 minutes focusing on the health and direction of business in the county and what can be done to help improve it.
The first-year county executive, who was elected last November and previously served several terms as a county legislator, said he spent his first 100 days in office visiting with 107 different businesses across the county to learn about their challenges and successes they face and what the county can do to help them out.
“Visiting with these businesses was an important part of building relationships and gathering data,” Borello said. “These visits were not just dog and pony shows for a photo op. These were in-depth meetings to discuss real issues and the state of their business, as well as what they see in the future. Also we conducted a survey to gather and quantify the data in order to tailor our economic development strategy to help the businesses that are already here thrive and succeed.”
Borrello said that business in the county is actually doing well, but the biggest obstacle to continued success is having a skilled and readily available labor force.
“Of the 107 businesses that we visited, more than 75 percent have open positions. A total of 767 open positions right now are at the 107 business that we visited here in our county, so this is just scratching the surface of the open positions,” Borrello said. “So despite the fact that these jobs pay well, 76 percent of the respondents in our survey said they have difficulty filling those positions. So what’s the issue? First and foremost, it is the lack of a skilled workforce.”
Borrello said the companies have found out that often times prospective employees don’t have the needed skill set to be hired. As a result, he said he wants to see the county’s economic development team work with educational institutions in the area to better prepare the workforce for the needs of businesses already operating in the area.
Borrello said he’s also looking to create an economic development alliance to bring stakeholders together and maximize resources.
Borrello added that while it is important to work to attract new businesses to come into the county, it’s just as important, if not more so, to focus on those businesses that are already in the area to make sure they have all the help they need to not only survive, but grow and flourish in the years to come.
“We need to change the narrative for economic development initiatives. In the past we have put more emphasis on recruiting new businesses and not enough on retention and growth of existing companies. We are going to balance our approach to increase efforts that preserve and expand the existing businesses that already understand the challenges of operating in New York State and are still doing well,” Borrello said.
While Borrello’s address was heavy on business and economic development, it was short on various other countywide issues – such as public safety, quality of life, Chautauqua Lake and other environmental resources, tourism, and government operation and efficiency.