Upstate lives matter: This is what Bryant La Tourette recently told his town board. He gave a presentation on then and now as it pertains to their economy.
Just four years ago our local hardware store had its best year, in the face of many mom and pops shutting down. Another company that installed all types of truck accessories, dump truck bodies, snow plows etc. also had a great year in sales. A metal fabricating company located in our town had a great year as well. Even my printing business, for the first time in 4 years, showed an uptick.
One of our large farms was in the process of negotiating a lease with a well. This would save the farm and catch up on back taxes. Other farms were selling hay. Hay prices went up due to demand. Construction companies and contractors were hiring. One of our local eateries had added a motel and had plans drawn up to expand.
This was all from a small company called Norse. Norse, a Norwegian company, took the exploratory risk and drilled for gas before the news of the Marcellus and Utica. Their claim to fame was the Herkimer play. It is a small play by today’s standards but a play that was large enough to lower the taxes in a few small towns due to New York State ad valorem tax that would result from drilling.
Local attorneys saw increases in business as land owners were working with attorneys to put together easements and lease structures. The anti-gas movement was, though, simultaneously in full swing with all types of stories of death and destruction, mutated babies and wiped out wildlife. They even went as far as misusing a photo of gold strip mining in a foreign country calling it “fracking land destruction” to instill fear.
There was so much misinformation coming from a small group of people and it started to become comical. We didn’t pay much attention because we thought our political leadership from local on up would see through the crap and blatant lies that were being tossed. Common sense, we thought, would easily expose this. Surely, our leadership would do some of their own research and notice, for once, the true commerce and real genuine unsubsidized revenue being generated; the kind of revenue and pride that originally built this country. We trusted our politicians, which, admittedly, was naive.
Then, the dark night descended. Our ruling class elites, we learned, were little more than poor actors who relied upon a combination of political hacks and interns (whose largest concern was looking for future employment) and special interest sycophants to write the scripts. The politicians were asleep in their passenger seat as the teenagers took charge of the driving, only waking upon arrival at the next party. Watching the wining and dining and the slapping of each other on the back as they mouthed platitudes to us about all they were going to do for us, as others stole the bread from our tables, opened our eyes. We learned common sense isn’t so common and politicians don’t practice it.
The media loved it, pinning one cause against the other meant high ratings and readership. When we started hearing the typical wishy-washy speeches from politicians looking to please a crowd based on some skewed push-poll, we knew our leadership failed or wouldn’t admit they hadn’t done any real objective research. We felt betrayed. We saw the politician in the real light. “Give me that speech, intern, I have a lunch appointment I have to make, and then I’m off to play golf before the BBQ. I don’t have time to waste.” Like an actor in a play, the lines were read professionally, as they looked the camera in the eye but it was all an act.
We, the commoner, heard “ME, ME, ME, ME. IF IT WEREN’T FOR ME, THERE WOULD BE NO ME…. THANK ME!” We got bluster from our supposed friends in the political world and balderdash from all the others. Our friends were unwilling to step up and admit they were wrong and that we were all played, while our enemies celebrated. All did as most politicians do; they followed the script. “Get in good with the Governor so I can get that new appointment or those line items in the budget for the token pet projects I can tell my voters wouldn’t have happened but for me.” We knew it was over when we heard the Government was here to help.
Today, that hardware store is mostly closed and only reopens for 2 hours a day. The farm was just foreclosed upon. The truck company closed, but is trying to make another go at it. Hay prices are flat. The construction companies are back to realizing their hopes for growth will not be realized.
Land values have dropped. Norse has declared bankruptcy. The eatery has put their plans in the closet. Any business that are left, are back to typical upstate fighting over scraps, just getting by.
The governor’s plan is casinos based on a paid contest, pushing wineries and breweries and hop farming. Great; gambling and alcohol for depressed communities! That’s one way to get a welfare check back.
By the way, the hop farming was to promote locally grown hops. If you received a grant for a brewery, you had to purchase a percentage of hops locally. Just two years after the plan those percentages of local grown hops have now been lessened, hurting those that invested in growing hops based on our Governor’s farm plan for locally grown produce. Remember, Andy is here to help.
I then asked the question to our town board. How many have been to Pennsylvania lately to visit the once dubbed forbidden zone? Our supervisor raised his hand. The question applied to all listening. I looked over at the social group of anti-gas retired downstate commuters in attendance and not one hand went up. They weren’t interested. Upstate lives matter to them only if they’re the lives of fellow retirees or neighboring second home owners. Others need not apply.
I stated I was there just a few days ago and I noticed a change. There was no horrendous traffic, as these folks insist is the case and no industrialization. I did notice some farmers had retired, while others had expanded. They had choices, something unheard of in our area where the only retirements are via God, the state or the bank. Things have slowed, to be sure, but if you’re looking for economic development you’ll still find a lot more of there than here in Upstate New York.
The “inconvenience” of job creating construction has lessened in Pennsylvania; as they wait for new infrastructure (pipelines) that are needed to bring the huge supply to market. But, the royalties are still flowing. One royalty owner told me his biggest problem was traveling to banks to set up accounts because he was uncomfortable with the maximums FDIC has set up. Of course, that is the extreme.
The opportunity, for now, has disappeared for the Southern Tier. The shot in the arm that we greatly needed became the shot in the back. Today, while the sun shines many elderly are sitting at the table looking at their tax bill, wondering how they will pay it. The land that has been in their family for generations is now going through a metamorphosis.
The list reads like this: have land logged, sell mineral rights, and bring in firewood guys to cut up tree tops after logging is done. Contact town board for subdivision regulations, contact surveyor, list property on land for sale web site, call real-estate, contact attorney. Notify the bank for extension if possible and liquidate what’s left in saving to pay back taxes. Finally, look south for small place to live out the rest of our days, and, in the back of our minds the loss of opportunity.
The Southern Tier’s only thought of comfort is that we are not alone. Thousands from Upstate New York are exiting the state. As the last box is put in the car and the last look is taken at the land, we say a prayer for those still holding on and curse the politicians that let one of the greatest opportunity slip through their hands. While heading south, take a trip down Route 29 to see the renewed faith in communities that were once like ours, destined to be ghost towns. They got a reprieve. We didn’t. Upstate lives matter, but it seems the matter is not of great concern to our politicians, especially those in Albany, unless it has a stamp of approval for a tax incentive, abatement or grant. How sad.