VERONA, N.Y. — Taking the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and moving forward was the focus of Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr.’s State of the County address given Wednesday, at the Shenandoah Club House at Turning Stone Resort and Casino.
“The pandemic was a challenge unlike any in recent memory,” Picente said. “The stress the pandemic placed on the county government cannot be understated.”
In spite of that stress, he notes, Oneida County not only remained opened, but also forged ahead with projects including the Innovare Advancement Center in Rome, the soon-to-open Wolfspeed chip fab plant in Marcy, and Mohawk Valley Health System’s Wynn Hospital under construction and slated to open next year.
“These projects are transforming Oneida County, our economy, our health-care system, and our future,” Picente said.
While these projects are exciting, there are still issues the county needs to tackle to continue the region’s revitalization and growth.
The “Great Resignation” took its toll on the county government along with businesses throughout the county, he said. With everyone searching for employees to fill those vacancies, it’s become more apparent that there is a mismatch between the available jobs and the skills of the area’s population.
“There is a segment of our population that lacks the skills to gain basic employment,” Picente said. “We will begin an initiative to bridge this gap.”
Oneida County also plans to train 200 new health-care workers and 100 tractor-trailer drivers to address the needs of the health care and supply-chain industries.
The area needs to attract and retain a highly trained workforce, Picente said, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute plays a large role in that. He referenced Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan, announced in January, to merge its College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering back onto the SUNY Albany campus. The county recently launched a petition on change.org opposing the idea, and Picente said the county will continue to press its case.
“This is key to our future, and we need to keep what we have,” he said.
To further help companies attract new employees to the region, Oneida County will partner with The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties to utilize federal recovery funds and create an initiative to provide student-loan relief as an incentive businesses can offer to new hires.
Another component of his post-COVID agenda is childcare, he said. The need for childcare took center stage during the pandemic when students were learning remotely or when parents had to head back to the office. There isn’t enough available childcare, and what there is costs too much, Picente said.
The county has taken steps to make childcare more affordable and available to more people by raising the income eligibility to 200 percent of poverty level, lowering the required parent share, and expanded eligibility for subsidized child care to include job seekers and those furthering their education.
Oneida County will also create a childcare task force to further delve into the issue, Picente noted.
The Oneida County executive touched on a number of other issues during his speech including mental-health resources, bail reform, infrastructure needs, and the “digital divide” that became very apparent during the pandemic.
He also teased several new projects including “the triangle,” a 250-acre parcel at the Griffiss airfield in Rome and a new signature three-day event, in cooperation with the Oneida Indian Nation, designed to showcase the area’s food, technology, businesses, and more. He hopes the inaugural event will take place in July 2023.
Oneida Nation Representative and Oneida Nation Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter spoke briefly before introducing Picente and praised the county executive for his cooperation and the partnership he has built with the Nation.
“Tony understands that when we all work together, the impossible becomes possible,” Halbritter said. “As the nation does well, Oneida County does well and vice versa.”