Geography is the key to the economic outlook in the Southern Tier, both in manufacturing and tourism.
When it snows, count on it to snow in the hills of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, attracting thousands to ski resorts like Peek ‘N Peak in Clymer and Holiday Valley in Ellicottville.
When it’s hot, there are lakes, streams, parks and campgrounds.
The area is close to eastern and midwest markets, with easy access to the north and Canada. That location is just as important for an industrial site like the Ripley Interstate in Chautauqua County off the Thruway, shovel-ready and almost equidistant from New York City and Chicago.
Advanced manufacturing and food processing are major employers in Chautauqua County, with about 19 percent of area residents working in advanced manufacturing, according to Bill Daly, administrative director and chief executive officer of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency. Cummins Engine outside Jamestown, for example, has 1,700 employees.
SKF Aeroengine, which makes bearings for jets, is another big employer with more than 500 highly-trained machinists, and Truck-Lite, a major producer of lighting, switches and safety accessories for heavy duty trucks, is heaquartered in Falconer.
In Cattaraugus County, Dresser Rand, with its turbines and compressors, and Alcas, with cutlery, remain strong and key parts of the local economy.
Diversification of the economy helps to blunt the blow of the closing of Petri Baking Products in Silver Creek and Carriage House Co.’s Dunkirk factory. The decision announced earlier this month by Ralcorp Holdings to close the two plants eliminated 375 jobs. Ralcorp will continue to operate Carriage House’s plant in Fredonia.
In Cattaraugus County, Dal-Tile Corp. announced the closing of its mosaic tile manufacturing facility in Olean and the layoff of 174 workers last fall.
Robust agribusiness has helped tourism. Chautauqua County is proud of its connection to Welch Foods Inc. through its concord grape crop, and vineyards in the lake country have spawned a substantial wine trail for visitors. A “Grape Discovery Center” for the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association is to open soon in Westfield, to attract motorists on the Thruway.
“Tourism is really big in this county,” Daly said.
The county has 42 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, as well as Chautauqua Lake with Chautauqua Institution. The institution is open year-round, and its nine-week education season in the summer brings in more than 140,000 visitors.
“This is a huge fishing and hunting community with 400 miles of snowmobile trails,” Daly said.
Tourism and recreation are strong in neighboring Cattaraugus County as well, with significant investment in the past couple years.
“Holiday Valley and Holimont certainly continue to be major economic drivers and players,” said Corey R. Wiktor, executive director of the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency.
Holiday Valley has been rated in the top six ski resorts in the northeast, and Holimont is the largest private ski resort in North America, he said.
Holiday Valley opened a new, $13 million lodge this season, and has installed more computerized snow-making systems. Those improvements strengthen the skiing base, but the resort is a strong four-season attraction, with its golf course, and Sky High Adventure Park which opened in 2011.
Knowing and serving customers help any business succeed. When the resort is designing its products, it seriously considers what the market will bear, said Jane Eshbaugh, Holiday Valley’s marketing director.
“People still have disposable income, but they’re very particular about how they want to spend it,” she said. “We are constantly investing in the resort, and growing the resort. They come here and they know they’re going to get good value.”
The ski resort also depends on the Village of Ellicottville to provide unique shopping and dining for resort-goers, and the village depends on Holiday Valley to attract customers.
“It’s pretty unique for a resort our size. It’s a great relationship,” Eshbaugh said.
The IDA provided some incentives for the improvements at the ski resort.
“They have been an absolute champion with defining four seasons and complementing with other resorts and restaurants,” Wiktor said.
One of the largest employers in Cattaraugus County and the Southern Tier remains the Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca.
“The good part is the area chambers of commerce have worked pretty soundly with Seneca Nation … to promote each other’s resources and venues,” Wiktor said.
The IDA continues to work on the first phase of the $25 million Bonaventure Square lifestyle destination facility across from St. Bonaventure University with a hotel, bar/restaurant, bowling alley, retail and student apartments.