In southwestern NY
Land Area: 329 square miles
Ancient History: Sits on the remnants of a sea that once covered New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Ontario
Schuyler County, NY, boasts one of the nation’s treasured natural jewels––the Finger Lakes––but it is also home to two of the world’s largest producers of salt: Cargill and U.S. Salt.
"The Finger Lakes area has also become one of the world’s renowned wine production regions," says Kelsey Jones, executive director of Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED). "Because of all of this activity, this is an area of interest to many companies looking to set up business operations."
In fact, a brand--new business park–-Schuyler County Business Park in Watkins Glen–-is ready and waiting for new tenants. "We just received certification through the ‘Build Now New York Shovel--Ready’ program, which very few sites in the state have," explains Jones. "It’s a vigorous program telling developers that the park is all ready to go, with water and sewer and all pre--permitting requirements."
The business park is located in an Empire Zone offering businesses significant tax credits and other benefits. "There isn’t another state in the country that can touch the program," Jones says.
New York’s 72 Empire Zones (EZs) offer a range of incentives designed to encourage economic development, job creation and business investment for certified businesses. Some incentives include a 100 percent property tax credit, investment tax credits, wage tax credits and sales tax refunds. There is also a refund against the NY State corporate tax, which could result in a complete wash for companies. "It’s an extensive program offering a range of credits for companies to use for 10 years--which is an excellent incentive to bring in new businesses," says Jones.
The new 47--acre business park, built with the help of a $1 million grant through the federal Economic Development Agency, offers beautiful natural wetlands and ponds. "We are interested in having a diversified mix of companies there, so if one industry takes a hit, the park won’t go down completely," says Jones.
The infrastructure is excellent for offices, manufacturing, and food processors, manufacturers and distributors.
Adjacent to Route 414, a north--south state highway, the park has easy access to both I--90 to the north and I--86 to the south.
And the main line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad runs along the western boundary of the business park. "You could easily build a spur off the main line and right into the park to your business," Jones says.
As for a workforce, the region just recently lost more than 800 manufacturing jobs outsourced to China. "So we have a very experienced and available workforce," says Jones, noting the state offers the Workforce New York Program that reimburses companies 50 percent of the cost of training new hires.
Schuyler County is big on agriculture, producing about $14 million worth of agricultural products annually. About 34 percent of its land is farmland, and the region is painted with large dairy farms, abundant apple, peach and cherry orchards and more than 20 vineyards county--wide (and about 80 throughout the Finger Lakes region) producing grapes for juice and wine production.
In fact, the wine industry here has experienced such a boom recently that the county is studying the feasibility of establishing a wine processing, distribution and warehousing facility.
"Our wineries are getting many awards and they are even beating the wines produced in France, Italy and California. And some dairies are getting involved in artisan--type cheese production in an attempt for our dairy farmers to diversify and get a better return on their milk production," continues Jones.
Nearby Cornell University offers regional food companies an excellent research resource through its college of agriculture, involved in numerous food experimentation projects.
The county has a population of 19,000 and boasts a slow and easy pace of life in a beautiful rural setting on the banks of the largest of the Finger Lakes––Seneca Lake. It is home to 17,000--acre Finger Lakes National Forest and Watkins Glen State Park, known for its breathtaking waterfalls and for its neighbor, the Watkins Glen International Raceway, the birthplace of road racing in America.
Glenora Wine Cellars
Tourism Is Big Driver In Area’s Success
Glenora Wine Cellars in Watkins Glen, NY, ranks among the top five wineries in the Finger Lakes region, says Gene Pierce, president and owner of Glenora Wine, Logan Ridge Wine Cellars and Knapp Vineyards.
"A lot of our success is due to the business generated by tourists who have come here and enjoyed our wines and then asked for our New York wines in their local liquor stores, creating a regional awareness," Pierce says.
Since 1977 when he first began operating his wineries, Pierce says the highway infrastructure has improved significantly, with three major interstates (I--90, I--86, and I--81) within miles. “We didn’t have the interstates back then and now, with the opening of
I--86, and with the development of the Route 15 corridor connecting Harrisburg to the Corning and Elmira area, this infrastructure will be instrumental in putting this region on the map, he says. He adds tourism is a major driver in the success of the region’s businesses, and the highway systems contribute to the logistical needs of these businesses as well as providing an easy corridor for tourism with New York City only a four--hour drive away.
Between the three wineries, Pierce ships up to 80,000 cases of wine annually, mostly by regional truck carriers. Pierce sells direct to customers visiting his wineries, as well as to wine distributors. "Wine and spirits distributors pick up the wine here at our wineries and deliver it to their warehouses and they, in turn, distribute it to retailers," he says.
One of his wineries just received Empire Zone status, which Pierce says will be beneficial to his overall business. "Being the size we are with under 40 employees, we sometimes have a limited number of opportunities to use some of the business, tax and workforce incentives––but the programs are there and they are wonderful," he says.
As this region gains more awareness as a center for viticulture, Pierce says the New York wine industry will soon be recognized at the national level as a major wine--producing area. "We are working hard here to make that happen," he says.