GUEST COLUMN: State Of The County Highlights Strengths

Modified: April 5, 2017 4:38pm

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I recently delivered my 5th State of the County address, speaking to a standing-room-only audience at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and outlining the numerous successes we have seen in Erie County over the past five years. While there are notable successes in areas including economic development, public health, and environmental protection to celebrate there are also challenges ahead that could not only imperil the achievements we’ve made but also undermine successes yet to come.

New life at the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna is encouraging, with the announcement that Erie County, through the ECIDA and with the help of NYS, will be purchasing 147 acres of prime land at the site to convert it to a high-tech 21st century industrial park. With direct access to three forms of transportation – highway, rail and port –this property represents some of the most attractive industrial land in North America. Fittingly, we are setting the stage for a new age of advanced manufacturing jobs on the very site on former heavy industrial glory.

We are seeing progress in the construction of the new STEM building at ECC North and are closer to providing a cutting-edge education to prepare students for these advanced manufacturing positions. Recently the final steel beam was placed on the $30 million project, and what was once an educational dream moved one step closer to reality. Elsewhere, the success of our anti-opioid hotline and ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis, investments in infrastructure and reductions in the county’s long-term debt, and the unveiling of our new “Passport to the Parks” program were highlights of the address.

We will be working to create a job training program for veterans to receive lead-safe certification to do renovation work on homes with lead paint hazards. We are also targeting job training for women in “middle skills” jobs, occupations that require more than a high school education but not a college degree such as truck drivers, welders, IT support specialists and quality control inspectors. We also plan to increase investments in our villages and hamlets with a Smart Growth fund to promote projects that enhance the centers of our smaller communities.

However, proposed federal budget cuts would end the HEAP program, the Rural Transit Service, Smart Growth Fund, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as well as effectively gutting numerous other programs that have collectively been a tremendous boon to our county’s resurgence. I urge all county residents to contact their Congressmen and Senators to urge support for these programs that help us all. We have done a lot of work to get to this point, but now is not the time to rest. Now is the time for renewed effort to continue building the Erie County we have always dreamed of, along with increased vigilance to protect the advances we’ve made for future generations to enjoy.