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Letter to the Editor: "Rural Myth" That Lowes Was Pushed Out of Cobleskill

Written By Editor on 4/6/14 | 4/6/14


Dear Editor:
The Schoharie News recent op-ed piece discussing Schoharie County’s unemployment crisis was important and timely. By repeating a “rural myth,” however, the piece serves to mire the discussion in persistent misinformation. The Editor recounts the reoccurring notion that a Lowes Home Center was not built in Cobleskill because of “inaction and community tension.” Simply repeating something over and over again does not make it true. The unfounded Lowes legend is no exception. What is true is there is absolutely no documentation to support the claim that Lowes’ decision not to invest in a store in Cobleskill was anything other than a reasoned and careful decision made by an experienced corporation after a lengthy analysis of economic conditions and demographic data.
While people like former Cobleskill Supervisor Murray successfully spun the Lowes’s myth to help promote an unnecessary and absurdly expensive water and sewer expansion to Howes Caves and former Mayor Galasso leveraged the same myth as an excuse to attack the most basic of zoning protections, Lowes did not “leave” because of water or sewer issues or onerous zoning regulations. In fact, they didn’t leave at all. They were never here, only exploring one of many siting options in a manner that is consistent with its business model.
Lowes rejects potential sites far more than it finalizes them. For example, In 2011 Lowes decided against building in the populous community of Huntington Station, Long island after it had spent millions to acquire land. (See http://thehuntingtonian.com/2011/11/07/opinion-lowes-demographics-costs-etc/). They did so because they knew the store could not be sustained in even a densely populated location with a declining economy. When Lowes identifies a potentially profitable location it overcomes obstacles far more complex that a small town zoning regulations or the need for a commercial scale septic system. The reality is that building a large home store in an area like Schoharie County with a depressed economy, near zero home growth, high vacancy rates and below average median income (11% living below the poverty level) is not prudent. A visit to the often near empty Lowes store in Oneonta drives this point home. The population density of Oneonta is more than 2,000 people per square mile. The population density of Cobleskill is 110 people per square mile. For Lowes, investing in Cobleskill made absolutely no sense.
What also doesn’t make sense is the absolute lack of a County-wide economic development plan that is informed by sound policy or infused with even the slightest amount of energy and creativity. Schoharie County Economic Development Agency, in particular, continues to grasp at an outdated model that dreams of the large employer or big box store to solve the county’s employment problem, waits like a dejected lover for a manufacturing company to bring its operations back from China and buy the old Interknitting building or falls head over heels for a half-baked business plan and money grab for public funds, in the style of Maranatha.
Economic development in Schoharie County will only be successful when new approaches are embraced like the wide-spread expansion of high speed Internet access to fuel the growth of home-based, entrepreneurial business; non-traditional agricultural markets that benefit small farms, market gardens and boutique farm product production; proactive and aggressive searches within high-tech sectors for small startup business willing to locate in the County; and a serious push for tourism that incorporates progressive community planning, support for eco and agri-tourism and a real effort to resist the bland and off-putting landscape of fast food corridors like Route 7. Finally, the community must throw real energy behind addressing the relatively low number young people with college degrees (nearly 13% lower than the State average) and the uptick in dropout rates (almost 9%). Without an educated workforce we have little to offer.
Alternatively, we could all sit back and hope that Lowes or Home Deport will come to the rescue. If that is the choice, we should be prepared for a long wait and ever-growing unemployment. 
- Bob Nied
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