Photo by Tom Rivers: Nathan Pace, a Medina attorney and assistant public defender, served as moderator of last Friday’s Legislative Luncheon for the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce.
GAINES – The average annual salary in Orleans County for private sector jobs is only $23,870. That is far too little for a family to make ends meet, said Nathan Pace, a Medina attorney who also works as an assistant public defender.
He represents many low-income residents in criminal cases. Pace said low-paying jobs keep families in poverty. They can’t make mortgage payments and there will be strain on a family due to the financial pressure, making it harder for them to stay together.
“We need to increase that number,” Pace said about the $23,870 average.
He served as moderator at Friday’s Legislative Luncheon organized by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce. About 85 people attended the event.
Pace said the county needs more manufacturing jobs that pay $40,000 to $80,000 a year. Those wages would allow families to pay their bills without undue worry.
Pace said he sees people in poverty turn to crime, looking for extra money or trying to cope with the extreme stress in their lives.
One local business leader said there are good-paying jobs available, but it’s difficult to find enough committed and qualified employees.
Hinspergers Poly Industries in Medina makes custom-made pool covers and other products. It has operated in Medina since 2002. Greg Budd, the plant manager, said the company had to turn away about 10-15 percent of its business last year because of workforce instability. The extra work was instead went to a Hinspergers plant in Canada.
“It’s frustrating,” Budd told the crowd at the Chamber event. “I could have grown more.”
The company has 65 positions in Medina but last year 116 people were on the payroll. That means 51 people were briefly with the company but didn’t stay, Budd said.
“It’s extremely difficult to find good and qualified workers,” he said. “It’s a critical issue. It’s the greatest challenge I have.”
Three state legislators attended the Legislative Luncheon and said New York has much more work to become business friendly, and to attract and retain jobs – as well as dependable workers.
Michael Norris and Steve Hawley are both Assembly members with portions of their districts in Orleans County.
Norris, R-Lockport, said he favors promoting vocational training. He wants to see local school districts direct more students to those programs. Norris said the state should also step up with its support of BOCES and vocational training.
“Job retention is one of the greatest issues we face,” Norris said. “I want to encourage the BOCES programs because these are good-paying jobs.”
State Assemblyman Michael Norris said he supports more investment in vocational training programs to help businesses have qualified employees. Others in the photo, from left, include Nathan Pace, moderator of the forum; Michael Kracker, deputy chief of staff for Congressman Chris Collins; and State Assemblyman Steve Hawley.
Norris and Hawley, R-Batavia, both decried the governor’s proposed $168 billion budget. They want to see more cuts, especially in the Medicaid program, which requires a contribution at the county level of about $8 million a year.
Hawley favors reduces business owners’ costs for workers’ compensation, for example. He wants to end the Scaffold law, which drives up insurance costs for businesses.
Rob Ortt, a state senator, was critical of the governor’s economic development efforts, which haven’t stopped the population exodus from upstate.
“If the jobs are here young people can stay here and raise families,” he said. “If they’re not, they won’t stay here.”
He said the governor has suggested eliminating tips for workers at restaurants and bars, and making them be paid at least minimum wage. Ortt said that would hurt the restaurants and bars, and also would result in lower pay for the workers who rely on tips.
“If people are leaving your state, there’s a reason,” Ortt said about the Cuomo initiatives. “There are better economic opportunities in other states.”
The legislators were asked what could be done to drive more economic development to the historic downtown business districts. Ortt noted the state has a Main Street grant program to help building owners with some renovations and upgrades. Albion, Holley and Medina have all received a Main Street grant in the past five years. Albion tried for a second Main Street grant the past two years but was rejected by the state.
Michael Kracker, the deputy chief of staff for Congressman Chris Collins, also said the recent tax reform passed by Congress and President Donald Trump is giving businesses more money for capital investments and to reward employees. Kracker called the tax reform, “a big accomplishment.”
He expects Congress will now turn to infrastructure and expanding high-speed Internet in rural areas, which he said are critical issues for businesses.
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