Progress amid the pandemic

State of the County address highlights area’s successes despite COVID challenges, setbacks

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In a Tuesday retrospect of 2020, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. delivered a first ever State of the County address in video format, a new normal in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

The county executive gave the videoed remarks against the backdrop of The Innovare Advancement Center, a county-owned facility at Building 100 on Rome’s Griffiss Business & Technology Park.

The 150,000-square-foot research and development facility was created through a partnership between Oneida County Government, the Air Force Research Laboratory, Griffiss Institute and the state. The facility houses research space, two quantum labs and two neuromorphic and nanoelectronics-focused labs. 

In his address, Picente highlighted projects like Innovare that have amplified the region’s capabilities, and have been able to flourish despite setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic.

“This past year presented challenges unlike any we have faced as a community. And even though our economy was for a time shut down, together Oneida County found a way to persevere and move forward in a real and significant way…,” Picente began. “... We’ve learned a lot over the past year and have made great strides in battling COVID-19, but it’s not over. That is why as County Executive I continue to make plans to manage this crisis into 2022 and possibly beyond. While we can see the end of this pandemic, we must never forget what we have been through and those we have lost.”

The county executive gave insights of ongoing projects around the county that will drive the region’s economy forward, that include:

• “...Adjacent to Innovare, and currently under construction, is the nation’s largest indoor drone test site, SKYDOME. It will attract companies and researchers from around the world to test their drones.”

• ”Strategic Global Aviation, also a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, is adding jobs at Griffiss … Strategic Global Aviation is a world-class military aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul facility. … We will partner with the company and Mohawk Valley Community College to create a painting curriculum to augment the school’s premier Airframe and Powerplant Technology Program.”

• “Cree (in Marcy), one of the biggest private sector technology investments in North America, is rising from the ground. When complete, this $1.2 billion high-tech manufacturing facility will be the world’s largest Silicon Carbide Fabrication plant…”

• “A growing 21st century economy needs and deserves a first-class healthcare system and the $600 million Wynn Hospital at (Mohawk Valley Health System) continues construction in downtown Utica. With the hospital will come a connected parking garage, allowing patients, visitors and staff to access the hospital year round, away from the elements. County Government is committed to building this garage. It is a necessity and we will see it to fruition.”

• “Directly across the street (from the under construction hospital in Utica) is the Nexus Center. This critical tourism project already has seen $11 million in county investment, and together with the Auditorium Authority, it will be home to hundreds of thousands of visitors annually competing in hockey, lacrosse, soccer and other sporting tournaments. … This project will be completed with an expected opening of June 2022.”

COVID-19 in retrospect

Switching gears to address a hopeful post-COVID-19 world, Picente noted that more than 400 Oneida County residents have died from the virus that infected over 21,000 so far.

In remembrance, Picente has tasked the Oneida County COVID-19 Memorial Committee with creating a memorial that will mark the community struggle and collective fight to overcome hurdles derived from the pandemic.

To prepare for the possibility of another public health emergency at any time in the future, Picente tasked Dr. Dan Gilmore, the county’s Director of Health, “to initiate an after-action report that will evaluate our performance and make recommendations for future preparedness.”

Fiscal health

Speaking to the economic health of the county government, Picente noted actions taken that made the bad situation financially manageable.

When COVID-19 infections began to appear in the region, “We acted swiftly to cut operating expenses in 2020 by $8 million. We asked our employees to do more and they stepped up to help fight the pandemic, cross training in a variety of ways and volunteering to work vaccination sites,” he said.

Picente said that the county was recently acknowledged by all three credit rating agencies who reaffirmed an “A” bond rating this year. 

Looking forward

This year, Picente said he will spearhead efforts to create new housing, based on recommendations of the Vision 2020 Housing Committee, a group of community leaders that examines potential growth initiatives.

The recommendations include: extending the Oneida County Industrial Development Agency’s Housing Policy for the next five years. Re-igniting the construction of new housing through OCIDA housing policy that incentivizes new construction of single-family subdivisions, townhomes and duplexes, and educating municipal planning boards and school boards on the importance of single-family housing. 

Picente noted the need to continue thinking outside the box to re-imagine and reignite the hard hit tourism economy as well as build out the region’s broadband internet infrastructure to improve access capabilities for all.

This, at a time when virtual learning and work at home opportunities are showing signs of staying power even after COVID-19 infections are under control.

Which, Picente urged everyone to get a vaccine if they had not already done so.

“COVID has taken much from us, but it cannot take away our spirit to move this community forward. It cannot take away how far we have come and I refuse to let it rob us of a future that we’ve fought so hard to secure. Good days remain ahead and together we will get there,” Picente said in closing.

To watch the full video of the State of the County address, visit: https://youtu.be/erL9HU0BUBY

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