By Patsy Nicosia
Times Journal, September 16, 2020
2020 was the year SEEC learned to pivot, not so much reinventing itself, but finding ways and partnerships to help keep the economy going and even growing.
It’s a tall order during COVID, admits Executive Director, Julie Pacatte and Steve Harris and Peter Johnson, two of the Schoharie Economic Enterprise Corporation’s founders.
But it also fits hand in glove with the goals of the Fairweather Report, followed by the formation of SEEC in January 2019, and Ms. Pacatte last September.
“I think one of the most important things we took away from the Fairweather Report is that it’s all about relationships”. Mr. Johnson said “so with COVID, we already had a good pulse on the community…we were able to galvanize around it sooner.”
And move from building the economy to saving it, Mr. Harris said.
“It forced us to pivot.”
That meant shifting focus from a planned series of Prosperity Forums to a website out-lining state and federal COVID resources and help, before SEEC launched its own Resiliency Fund.
When COVID first began shutting down businesses, SEEC sprang into action with a series of surveys, Ms. Pacatte said – and quickly realized what would help the most was an infusion of cash.
So far, 18 businesses have received a total of $54,000 in loans or grants from the Resiliency Fund and Mr. Johnson will be chairing a second fund that will help match those looking to expand with capital.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Mr. Johnson said, “and we knew from the start SEEC would need to be adaptable.”
That means keeping a focus on the future and the Fairweather Report, Mr. Harris said.
“We’re planting seeds everyday”.
Among them, continuing to identify sites for potential development along the Route 7 corridor and figuring out the best way to get them shovel-ready.
SEEC is also hoping to use an Appalachian Regional Commission grant to develop a business plan for a one-stop food processing and delivery plant “that would link the oldest profession with the digital market,” Mr. Johnson joked.
SEEC is also working with Schoharie County and the Village of Schoharie on ways to turn the old jail there into a catalyst for economic development.
“How do we find ways to turn that building, which has so much potential, into the highest best use?” asked Ms. Pacatte.
Mr. Harris pointed out that all of SEEC’s efforts are backed by private money both from the group’s founders and others – who believe rising tides lift all boats.
What’s ahead for SEEC in 2021?
A renewed focus on business retention, more work on connecting businesses with capital – especially those in agriculture – and destination building, linking, for example, birders with an Eagle Trail.
“I think COVID is going to change some things forever,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s certainly going to change things more quickly. We think we can embrace that and find ways to reinvent ourselves. Maybe it’s not where we planned to be, but it’s where we are.”