GHENT — A new poll of businesses in Columbia County conducted by the Siena College Research Institute shows the county’s business climate is somewhat optimistic, but reiterates challenges the county faces including a lack of qualified employees and the rising drug problem.
The results of the first Annual Columbia County Business Leaders Survey, commissioned by the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, was presented at the economic development agency’s annual meeting Tuesday morning at Kozel’s Restaurant on Route 9H.
The survey, which reached out to 176 business owners operating in Columbia County, found 30 percent of business owners surveyed say the county’s business climate has improved a little since last year and 5 percent say it has improved a considerable amount.
The survey also found 49 percent of business owners say the climate has remained the same since last year.
“A lot of businesses are optimistic about doing business here, which is positive,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matthew Murell, R-Stockport, who spoke at the Columbia Economic Development Corporation meeting. “If they had to do it again, they would stay in Columbia County. Only a small percentage of comments were negative.”
Thirty-nine percent of surveyed business owners said their businesses are either somewhat, or much more, successful than they were last year, according to the poll.
Surveyed business owners expressed concerns about the quality of the potential employee pool in the area as well as social issues including the opioid addiction crisis affecting Columbia County and the rest of the state.
“Presentations at the meeting were mostly positive and displayed optimism about the local economy,” said U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, who also gave remarks at Tuesday’s meeting. “The Siena survey, however, did have some concerns expressed by local business leaders: the lack of qualified prospective employees and concern about rising rates of alcohol and drug abuse among employees and prospective workers.”
Seventy-three percent of surveyed business owners rated the suitability of the workforce as only fair or poor, with 74 percent saying technical skill levels are either a somewhat, or very significant problem.
Seventy percent of local business owners said work ethic is either a somewhat or very significant problem, according to the survey.
Sixty-five percent of surveyed business owners say that the use or abuse of drugs or alcohol is a somewhat or very significant problem, according to the survey.
“I always thought that the Workforce Investment Board did a good job transition people into new careers,” Murell said. “Reaching everyone can be very difficult.”
Several officials spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, including keynote speaker Hughe Johnson, chairman of Hugh Johnson Advisors LLC., who spoke about the national economic climate; and Chairman of the CEDC Board Tony Jones.
“We have significant arts, cultural, historical, recreational and tourism assets; a flourishing agribusiness sector; one of the country’s strongest creative economies; and emerging technology and manufacturing sectors,” Columbia Economic Development Corporation President and CEO F. Michael Tucker said. “Our location in the Capital Region’s growing technology infrastructure and our central geographic location links Columbia County to major global markets further strengthen our position.”
To continue strengthening the county’s economic position, the county needs to focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, infrastructure, quality of life and sustainability, workforce and education, Tucker said.
Tucker touted the CEDC’s work with the county on broadband infrastructure, hosting several job fairs throughout the year, providing small business loans and helping various groups receive grants, such as the Hudson River Skywalk project.
“Our collective efforts lead to good jobs that empower people to be self-sufficient and support their families,” Tucker said. “It enables us to create our own destiny by driving the economy in a direction that the community can get behind and it adds to the narrative of Columbia County, which in turn helps attracts capital investment and expands the local tax base.”