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Letter to the Editor: Casinos and Quickie-Marts

Written By Editor on 10/16/14 | 10/16/14

Casinos and Quickie-Marts: Economic Development in Schoharie County
Whether you think a casino in Schoharie County is a good or bad idea you probably agree that something has to be done to address the depressed local economy, high unemployment rate and dwindling tax base.
While fears of moral decay, dramatic increases in drug and alcohol abuse and other social ills associated with casinos are likely overblown, a casino proposal for Schoharie County does bring with it something harmful – a distraction from the root causes and cures for the county’s lack of a viable economic development strategy. The casino, just like Lowes and other one shot wonders is not the answer to reverse years of decline. Single large employers do not shift the course of the county toward a sustainable economic model. Rural areas, with high levels of poverty and an unskilled work force do not present the kind of demographic that attracts and retains large business, nor should they necessarily try.
Casinos represent a troubled industry with its own problems, including a competitive and declining marketplace. Even if a casino comes to Schoharie County it could fall victim to competition and declining disposable/entertainment income, the same conditions that have resulted in failed casinos in Nevada and New Jersey, leaving little long-term economic benefit for the County. So what should we in Schoharie County to do if we really want it to be “our time”?
We should focus on economic engines that sustain growth and job creation based on our strengths not our desperation. We need to encourage and support the creation of small business, particularly home and farm-based entrepreneurial businesses. We do that by expanding high-speed internet access and by supporting practical assistance for small start-ups. We need to help small businesses explore and leverage non-traditional markets and marketing approaches. We also need to cultivate a better educated, more diverse and agile work force.  To start, we must address the 5% of our high school students who drop out, the 20% who fail to graduate for one reason or another and the nearly 40% who don’t go on to college. We need to look closer at successful models for encouraging tourism. We can’t continue to wonder why more people don’t come to our beautiful valleys while we rejoice in yet another convenience store or ignore the vacant store fronts and dilapidated housing in our downtowns.   Finally, we need to go out and look for compatible community partners by participating in industry and professional groups and trade shows, networking and advocating on behalf of our county’s strengths.
Economic development is a science and a profession not just one of many lines on an elected or appointed official’s job description. Economic development requires a comprehensive and pro-active strategy, executed by experienced professionals. Hoping that a casino license is issued or a big box store comes to town is not a strategy. Schoharie County will only have “it’s time” when our officials stop waiting for the knock on the door and instead support a real effort to create the conditions that allow our residents to develop, improve and expand small local businesses which provide an attractive identity for our county that includes a beautiful natural environment, sustainable business models, an educated workforce and commitment to a community in which people want to live, work and invest.   
We can gamble on a casino, trade quickie-marts for boarded up stores and allow our kids to shoot no higher than minimum wage employment or we can get busy and create a local economy that is diverse, vibrant and based on providing real products and services, delivered by smart and hard-working people in creative ways, to new and inventive markets.
Bob Nied
Center for Sustainable Rural Communities
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