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A word from the town of Hamburg supervisor

[photo1]HAMBURG — The following guest column was submitted by Hamburg Town Supervisor Steven Walters.

During the past several years, many questions have been brought up, regarding Industrial Development Agencies. This has occurred not just in Hamburg, but throughout Erie County.

Industrial Development Agencies, despite their name, are charged with promoting overall economic development. An agency is not meant to exclusively promote industrial activities. This has never been up for debate in Erie County or anywhere else, in the state.

There is also no question that economic development is not based on one single factor. Whether a company chooses to relocate, to expand or to stay in Erie County, depend on a number of factors, such as the type of workforce, the surrounding infrastructure or the community itself.

A community that fails to acknowledge this, that allows itself to deteriorate, that idly watches as more and more buildings become vacant, is bound to fail. Economic opportunities will vanish. A company that is brought to a blighted neighborhood is less likely to make an investment than if it was taken to a thriving community. This is just common sense.

What we need to focus on, as much as the proverbial “big fish,” are the little things; consider Rudy Giuliani’s “broken window” theory: If we can address the little things, the big things are sure to follow.

Look no farther than the Buffalo waterfront, as proof of this. After years of waiting for the silver bullet of the moment, whether it be Bass Pro or otherwise, the folks in charge changed focus and began to get the little things done. And while the change was not noticed overnight, I don’t think anyone would argue with the recent success of Canal Side.

The same is true in our community. During the previous five years, the Hamburg IDA has assisted 45 projects. These projects brought a total investment of nearly $80 million. More importantly, these 45 projects have allowed us to retain approximately 780 jobs while, at the same time, creating approximately 560 new jobs.

These properties pay substantially more in village, town, county and school taxes than they would have paid, without making the investments. In addition, new workers pay state and federal income taxes. This does not even take into account the economic spin-off that occurs as a result of the operations of these businesses and the spending by the workers who otherwise might not have jobs in Erie County.

To illustrate, our Ravenwood Industrial Park went from paying approximately $15,000 in property taxes per year to now paying $170,000 per year, as a developed industrial park. This, despite the property tax incentives granted to Ravenwood projects.

It may also surprise some to learn that, of these 45 projects, only three have come from other communities in Western New York. And of those three, all moved because they had outgrown their existing facility. The assertions that IDAs are only pilfering from each other are patently false and the record proves that.

Another surprising fact is that most of these projects the Hamburg IDA has assisted involved the filling of vacant buildings. Only five projects involved a new building being constructed; like Canal Side, our success begets more success.

Take a look at the village of Hamburg’s business district. In 2005, the village Main Street was looking more like a ghost town than a vibrant commercial district. Through active efforts of many parties, including the Hamburg IDA, the village is not only a strong and vibrant community again, but has actually received awards for its turnaround.

These efforts, referred to as adaptive reuse, help allow us to fill our vacancies, help eliminate blight and help to reverse sprawl.

When I took office in 2006, Hamburg’s commercial and business vacancy rate was more than 23 percent.

That is nearly one-fourth of all the non-homestead square footage in our town. Through the smart and aggressive use of adaptive reuse, that figure is now less than 10 percent and is continuing to decline. The most important aspect of our use of IDAs is that the growth these companies have brought to our community has not only assisted in stabilizing our tax rate, but has allowed us to cut taxes five times in the last seven years.

IDAs work; adaptive reuse works. IDAs have promoted economic development, have brought jobs to our community and helped breathe life back into our downtrodden areas.

The town of Hamburg is fortunate to have its own IDA to help promote our communities goals. Our IDA has been a tremendous success in making this community one we can all be proud to boast about.
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