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Charlie Cook, successful business leader, hopes for success in improving image of GCEDC

If Charlie Cook can do one thing as chairman of the board of the Genesee County Economic Development Center it is improve the public perception of the agency.

GCEDC claims 3,581 jobs creation commitments since 2003 spread over 349 economic development projects with a total capital investment of $835. In 2012, GCEDC was able to announce at least 300 new jobs at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park and WNY STAMP’s regulatory approval promises thousands of more new jobs in the coming years, according to the agency.

Local residents should take pride in hosting an such aggressive, forward-thinking, job-creating industrial development agency, Cook believes.

Turning public opinion from one of skepticism over employee compensation into one of appreciation for its accomplishments won't be a quick or easy process, Cook said.

"Nobody questions the accomplishments of the EDC and how successful we've been over the past 10 years," Cook said. "It's just been huge, but it can be a short-lived success when you shoot yourself in the foot. Certainly this incentive compensation thing was a bad decision and that's been taken away, and that's good.

"I'm determined," he added, "to turn public perception into pride for what this agency does."

Like most entrepreneurs, Cook is an optimist. He's an engineer, so he is hardwired to solve problems. He's also one of Genesee County's most successful business leaders, so he knows what success looks like.

As a Genesee County native, born and raised in Bergen, Cook is a cheerleader for our region and its prosperity.

"The ultimate goal is to keep more of our graduates, our kids, in the area."

But it's not just job creation that motivates Cook to serve as a volunteer on the GCEDC board, it's about boosting the standard of living for us all.

"It's about the well being of our entire area, whether it's job creation or just an improved quality life, that's the real reason I'm on the board. Job creation is just one of the things that leads to that."

Cook has some experience in job growth.

Liberty Pumps was founded in 1965 by his uncle, Fred Cook. Charlie Cook took charge of the company in 1975 when it had only about a dozen employees. Today, Liberty Pumps employs 135 people in its 124,000-square-foot facility in Apple Tree Acres.

Gross annual revenue for Liberty Pumps is about $55 million.

Cook is proud that his company is one where people generally enjoy their work and share in the profits, when there are profits to share.

"We have a hard time here tolerating negative attitudes or an attitude that doesn’t lend itself to performance. It’s not so much me or the managers looking for it. It’s more the peers.

"If there’s somebody who is just not with the program, it’s best for us, obviously, but it’s also best for the employee to move on and go do something else. Fortunately, doesn’t happen too often, but when it does everybody ends up better for it. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a job you really don't like."

After high school, Cook moved to Missouri to study at Parks College of Aeronautical Technology of St. Louis University.

He went to work for McDonald Douglas at night.

"I had no money and I didn't want to take out a loan," he said.

After graduation, Cook moved to a day shift at McDonald Douglas, but was drafted into the Army a few months later.

He was trained as a radio teletype operator and of the 96 people in his school, 93 were sent to Vietnam. Cook was transferred to South Korea.

Cook served his 21 months and then returned to McDonald Douglas, but soon realized he preferred the lifestyle of rural Western New York, wanted to be near his family and didn't fit in with the corporate culture of a large company.

His uncle hired him as an engineer.

"The reality was, we only had seven employees in the company," Cook said. "We did everything. We would build pumps in the morning, in the afternoon, if I had a chance, I would do some design work or I'd go out on the road selling. We did whatever it took to get the job done."

New employees are much more specialized and it's easy to get pigeon-holed into a particular job, but it's still part of the company's culture to expose every employee to as many aspects of the business as possible.

It's also part of its culture to communicate what's going on with the company. The most important communication just might be about profits.

Cook has taken only one business course in his life, at Genesee Community College, and one of the memorable lessons the instructor tried to impart to the class was that a business owner takes all the risks, so the owner should reap all the rewards.

It's a philosophy he has never agreed with.

"I feel like the rewards should be shared with the people who got you there. Ever since the beginning, we've had a pretty aggressive and generous bonus program, profit sharing."

Innovation is also important to Liberty's success.

The sales and marketing departments are really good, he said, at listening to customers and coming up with new ideas, but Cook also subscribes to the notion -- shared by great entrepreneurs from Henry Ford through Steve Jobs -- that often customers doesn't know what they want until you show it to them.

"That's one of the secrets of our success -- coming up with products they just can't get from our competitors."

That's why Fred Cook's business caught on from the beginning.

Liberty was originally a spin-off of a Buffalo-based pump company and made only sump pumps.

But sales of sump pumps are vulnerable to weather conditions, so Fred needed to come up with a line of pumps that could be sold any time of year.

He designed a pump that was pre-installed in a basin and contractors liked it because it was easy to install.

Since then, Liberty Pumps has continued to refine products and expand its line of pumps -- sold to distributors who sell them to contractors.

As we toured the Liberty Pumps facility earlier this week, Charlie asked me not to take a picture of a pump casing because it hasn't been released on the market yet. He doesn't want to give competitors a sneak peek.

"Our competitors have always copied us and now it happens more frequently. Our challenge is to have the next generation already under way before that happens."

That innovative spirit is what makes Liberty Pumps a fun place to work, Cook said.

"It’s really dynamic and exciting. For a boring product like a pump, it’s amazing how interesting it can get if you really focus on innovation and things that aren’t out there currently."

In recent years, the growth of Liberty Pumps has been helped by the agency Cook now helps oversee -- GCEDC.

In 2000, the company moved from a 28,000-square-foot facility on Route 19 to a brand new building in a "shovel ready" business park built in Bergen by GCEDC.  Liberty received tax abatements to help with the move.

In 2008, the company expanded its Apple Tree Acres facility to its present 124,000-square-foot building, again receiving assistance from GCEDC.

In a comment on The Batavian last week, a reader questioned Cook's position as chairman of the board and a beneficiary of GCEDC benefits.

"I would like to invite him out here and show him how that money was invested," Cook said. "Is it sort of corporate welfare? It all depends on how a company uses that benefit. We reinvested that money. Would we have had the two build-outs without the investment, sure, but the fact is, we wouldn't have had the funding to put into product development to fill things up and do another one another eight years later."

Cook's term on the board ends in 2016, but before then, he anticipates more expansion for Liberty Pumps, and in that time he expects his company will again seek assistance from GCEDC.

By law, Cook will be unable to participate in any discussion, and he certainly won't be able to vote, on any proposal for GCEDC to help Liberty Pumps.

The same assistance Liberty Pumbs has received, Cook said, has helped dozens of other businesses in Genesee County.

The assistance helps level the playing field for company's like Liberty Pumps that are based in high-tax New York and must compete against companies based overseas or in lower-tax states.

If all GCEDC did was hand out tax breaks to businesses that promise jobs to the count, it might be controversial enough, but in January 2001, the Authorities Budget Office released a scathing report on bonuses paid to GCEDC employees, especially CEO Steve Hyde.

The public outcry has been at a near consistent high pitch since then and late last year, at the same time Cook was announced as the incoming chairman, the agency said the bonus program would be discontinued starting with the 2013 performance year.

Bonuses were still paid for 2012 because, Cook said at the time, the agency was contractually obligated to pay out bonuses earned by employees based on their performance during the year.

In all, for 2012, employees received $120,000 in bonuses.

In December, the board also announced a raise for Hyde from an annual $160,000 to $195,000. Hyde won't earn a bonus in 2012, but he will receive $10,000 in deferred compensation.

The other staff members, the board announced in December, would also receive raises. Those raises range from 8 to 12 percent.

Local residents continue to take issue with the compensation of employees because they question the announced job creation numbers of the EDC, but many people also object to the annual county government share paid to the agency each year.

For 2013, taxpayers will kick in $213,000 to help fund the agency's operations.

While Cook acknowledges the bonuses paid out previously were a mistake, he said the county's should continue partial funding for GCEDC.

"Looking at this last year, sure the EDC did extremely well and they did earn some money, but our commitments for reinvestment far exceed (that revenue)," Cook said. "I think it's appropriate that the county invest incrementally. There are going to be years where we don't have that kind of success and yet you want to maintain the caliber of staff that we have. I think there would be a danger, and it would be unfortunate, if we ask for substantially less from the county."

Cook acknowledged that all of the negative attention Steve Hyde seems to get over his compensation is a concern.  It's not come to the point yet, Cook said, that he feels the need to sit down and talk about it, but he understands that anybody can find their job less enjoyable if they face constant criticism from the public.

"How long can you really enjoy your occupation with the negative scrutiny? Certainly, scrutiny is not inappropriate for what he does. That's to be expected.  We're uncomfortable for the potential that he is uncomfortable to the point of being discouraged enough to the point of leaving."

Cook considers Hyde a bit of a superstar at what he does and wants to see him stick around.

"Without actually seeing all he does and knowing about his capabilities, it's difficult for people to understand that he would be hard to replace. It's not impossible. Anybody is replaceable, but even if you did, you would have to pay at least as much as what we're paying him to get that kind of talent. It's just a fact."

Over the next year or two, Cook hopes he can help refocus the public's attention on the agency's success and have people come to understand that Hyde and the rest of the staff are paid well because they do a really good job at creating employment and improving the quality of life in Genesee County.

"Any agency that can do what his agency has done and generate this many jobs in a rural county, especially in New York State, is pretty amazing," Cook said.

Mark Potwora
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I wonder since Mr.Cook thinks its ok to hand out 12% raises to those at GCEDC that he will be doing the same for his employee's at liberty pumps...This is a huge conflict of interest being chairman of the board of GCEDC and at the the same time want benefits from them for his company..................While Cook acknowledges the bonuses paid out previously were a mistake, he said the county's should continue partial funding for GCEDC...If they were a mistake Mr.Cook ,then don't you think handing out 12% raises are a mistake....The chairman of GCEDC should not be some one who benefits from the GCEDC also..The county legislators should of put a stop to it..This should be an independent person with no ties to the GCEDC..Any group who can pay Mr.Hyde 200,000 dollars a year doesn't not need county tax dollars..Mr.Cook should be thanking all the tax payers for all the tax breaks he receives .While he gets tax break the rest of us foot the bill..If his company is so successful he shouldn't need any more tax abatements..Mr. Cook overseeing Mr.Hyde is a joke....

John Roach
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Mark,
He invited you come out, take him up on it.

Kyle Couchman
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I had a very interesting phone conversation with MaryPat yesterday over an article about the GCEDC raises that are replacing the "bonuses" It went like what Mr. Cook is saying, that they do a good job which no one is disputing. However when I responded to Marypat that The Govenor of this state's salary is only $179,000 do you think Steve's Job is harder than Gov. Cuomo's and merits pay as such that is that much higher than his. She then thanked me for my concern said that I was very articulate and that she wasnt going to discuss this further and hung up.

I had made phonecalls to the State ABO, the Attny General's Office, and The State Comptrollers Office in Buffalo and they all indicated they were aware of these things but so far no way of reigning in things so far. According to these agencies the GCEDC is now the highest paid in the entire state. That just blows my mind.

Doug Barnard
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As a small business owner I will tell you that without the tax breaks provided by GCEDC our company would no longer be in NY. That would take 10 jobs out of Genesee County. All the tax incentives almost level the playing field with the states to our south. Having lived in Genesee County for over 45 years I am one of those ” taxpayers” and it’s a shame I am forced to choose between my roots and keeping my business viable.
A 12% raise seems like a lot until you realize that you have removed any chance for performance-based compensation, in effect lowering the employee wages. How long would you stay at a job if your pay were reduced?

Lincoln DeCoursey
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Very good photography lately.

Kyle Couchman
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Doug I can appreciate that, however the previous bonuses which were defended as appropriate UNTIL they were discontinued are the issue, now a 12% increase in salary for this coming year? In this economic climate is ridiculous and a slap in the face of taxpayers. Can you or Charlie afford to give a 12% increase in salary to your top employees? And now this veiled comments about how Steve getting such negative scrutiny might leave. This is exactly what led to the banking crisis that our govt bailed out. Top execs giving themselves obscene raises while depending on investment returns and when they didnt happen then they needed bailouts to remain solvent. Remember that? I still think that the idea of witholding the monies from the county from GCEDC and having them go before the Ways and Means Committee and showe cause/need and have documentation of such so that transparency of where our tax dollars are going are public. Not just lost in the yearly reports as generalities.

Doug Barnard
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Kyle
While I cannot “give” a 12% raise, most of our employees have performance-based incentives in place where they have the ability to earn a 12% raise.
I think if the general public could see the ridiculous processes and paperwork required to physically expand a company in NY they might better appreciate the job the GCEDC does to get sites ready. I know it opened my eyes as our little expansion took a year just to get site approval!
Do I think the previous bonus structure was flawed? Absolutely. Should it have been abolished? I don’t think so. Heavily modified with real metrics in place so that if someone does outstanding work they get rewarded? Yes.
Transparency in government? Great idea but I doubt that most of us could comprehend the actual financials involved.

Kyle Couchman
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so you are saying that Steve Hydes job is much more difficult than the Governor's so his almost 200,000.00 a year salary is justified on top of other executives getting 12% increases a well. Do your employees hav to pay or contribute to their own health insurance? or retirement? Or do you provide similar benefits as GCEDC does being part of the state pension or health system? It sounds like a blind defense of someone, especially now everyone is coming forward after ? many years and bonuses since the State ABO report? So because we dont understand the financials we should just pipe down and take what we can get for now as taxpayers. I'm sorry That didnt work well for the auto industry, or the mortgage lending industry when similar things almost resulted in their collapse until our Govt decided to use our tax dollar to bail them out and allow them to continue to increase their salaries.

I'm sorry but I just dont believe it I believe that now we can do something about it. Enabling isnt just used in refernce to alcoholics and mental disabilities issues. Our reps are doing it right now with this GCEDC only using our dollars instead. Every week it seems articles on grants and profits earned by GCEDC come rolling by but come county budget time the are like oliver twist, hat in hand saying can we please have another sirs. Then once they have it the bonuses/raises roll out.

If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and smells and poops like a duck, then it probably is a duck... shame on you trying to convince me its a goat.

Mark Potwora
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Mr.Barnard you said All the tax incentives almost level the playing field with the states to our south. Where are the tax incentives to level the playing field for the homeowner..We can use the same argument..If the taxes are so out of wack then why don't they lower them for all..I do have an issue with Mr. Cook being chairman of the board and allowing these 12% raises and also be benefiting from the GCEDC at the same time..Kyle's point about HYDE making more than the Governor is a valid one...Why is he the highest paid IDA official in the whole state of state of New York....We have every right to demand accountability of how any tax payer dollar is spent..Maybe some of what the GCEDC does for business is good but it does not mean that Mr.Hyde should be paid 200,000 dollars a year ,when other IDA heads make alot less...The are other IDA's in New York that create the same amount of jobs...As i said in my first post if Mr.Cook thinks they all should have a 12% raise,Does if also think all his employees should have 12% raise...Its public money paying these wages and benefits.....GCEDC came to the county wanting 215,000 dollars to operate at the same time knowing they were going to hand out these raises.This is all public tax money that keeps the GDEDC going..Its either State,Federal,or County money .The taxpayer has every right to ask question...

Kyle Couchman
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But yet you offer jobs up that dont have correlations. Cuomo is in effect doing a similar job as Steve. In my viewpoint Cuomo is CEO of NYS and his work is very similar to what Steve does but he also has ALOT of other responsibilities as well. If you take it to that kind of comparison then lets look to what other EDC CEO's make in comparison to the financials of each county. Since he his the highest paid EDC CEO in the state then why is he makeing so much more than say NYC's EDC CEO or Albany's CEO or Syracuse's CEO...ect ect. The salary for Steve was negotitated to be alot lower, then these bonuses began to become ridiculous, way out of line, scrutinized and rejected by the ABO yet they continued and were defended, then AFTER they are removed people begin to admit they were a bad idea or inaproppriate. So then as the last bonuses are handed out they get raises that not only are way out of line with the economic situation we are currently in but bring them up to what the inappropriate bonuses would be, if and when they get another 12% raise next year, where do we begin to draw the line. The comptroller and ABO administrator both voiced that the salary really raises eyebrows across the board because of the population and finances of our county. We are speaking out but taking apart the argument to this level and equating it to communist and collectivist views is a bit much dont you think.

To be honest I think we are setting ourselves up for economic disaster. Its similar to the mortgage fiasco where money was lent with all sorts of breaks and risks and when things didnt happen the way everyone was sure they would. All these companies had to be bailed out, and what did some do.....continue the exec raises with the bailout monies grabbing all they could while they could.

Nothing is stopping any of these companies from setting up and using the tax breaks to do these new ventures, then when the breaks expire they could close up shop and fire everyone and move to a place in or out of the US thats more financially suitable. So then what happens we not only lose all thesetax dollars that were supposed to enrich our future standard of living, but we have a few edc execs who made fortunes out of it and they walk away as did The Lumber Barons of old di with the lumber industry, or The Kennedys and other Families that took advantage or prohibition to make billions. I think its these lessons that people are applying unconsciously here locally at this situation. And trying to do something about it while the County turns a deaf ear to its constituents complaints. No one is saying to make Steve Hyde's wages equal but some common sense and value for what he is being paid needs to be applied.

By the way Steve doesnt get a wage there is a distinction between wage earners and salaried earners.

Wages is best associated with employee compensation based on the number of hours worked multiplied by an hourly rate of pay. For example, an employee working in an assembly plant might work 40 hours during the work week. If the person’s hourly rate of pay is $15, the employee will receive a paycheck showing gross wages of $600 (40 x $15). If the employee had worked only 30 hours during that week, her or his paycheck will show gross wages of $450 (30 x $15). Because the paycheck needs to be computed based on the actual hours worked, the employee earning wages will likely receive her or his paycheck five days after the work period.

Salary is best associated with employee compensation quoted on an annual basis. For example, the manager of the assembly plant might earn a salary of $120,000 per year. If the salaried manager is paid semi-monthly (perhaps on the 15th and last day of each month), her or his paycheck will show gross salary of $5,000 for the half-month. Since the salary is the same amount for each pay period, the salaried employee’s paycheck will likely cover the work period through the date of the paycheck.

Dave Olsen
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"Transparency in government?" Yes, great idea. By saying that Mr. Hyde may be getting upset by negative publicity and then saying if we all knew how great a job he is doing, he would be appreciated more, basically makes the case for transparency. Yes, transparency is the problem here, in my very humble opinion. No doubt, Mr. Barnard, most of us wouldn't understand the specifics, but Mr. Hyde is getting very well paid, and apparently a very smart guy so he ought to be able to explain it to us peasants.

Transparency in every single phase of government should be the goal. If our elected officials and bureaucrats don't like it, then as Howard says, they can make the free-market decision to go work elsewhere. Crony-capitalism and secret agencies need to go.

Kyle Couchman
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But the fact your are not getting is that I am not saying that he should be payed equally. What my statement is, is that myself and other taxpayers believe his pay is obscenely higher at our expense. Foe whatever reason the people that represent and are paid by us elected by us answerable to us, have been ignoring us and continuing this practice. The comparison to others is to convey a sense to people who point to the accomplishments and say see what he has done. Its an oversimplification of the complex situation, but thats where people who are taking advantage hide themselves in details and minutae.

We can see now in Mr. Cook's and othe articles that NOW everyone says the bonuses are wrong. Well inapprorpiate but yet what they have done is doubled the salaries over any other increase in the last five years. A shell game, our money still being used for the same thing we objected to, just rearranged and labeled differently, and now not based on performance.

If it was done the way its supposed to be, when the projects are finished and functions and past the breaks and actually making contributions to the tax base. Then its a positive result. Throwin the large numbers and saying what a win it is without showing much makes taxpayers nervous, it doenst seem any better fiscally here then it was three years ago.

Kyle Couchman
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Hey Dave when is the Libertarian meeting Monday? Please let me know.

Frank Bartholomew
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If the GCEDC is an asset to this area, let the numbers prove it, if not, no more taxpayer dollars to them, it is really that simple.
In my opinion, I don't see where GCEDC can prove their value, factor all the tax breaks, the bonuses, the salaries, the perks, and I would think they spend more than they bring in. If I'm wrong, GCEDC should be more than able to prove it.

Dave Olsen
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I e-mailed you about the last one, but am unsure if you saw that. Our meeting is at 6:30 pm Monday, Feb.4th. at Coffee Culture 6 Court St. Batavia. Mostly we will be setting up different committees and discussing a lot of short-term organizational functions. Anyone is of course welcome to attend and we need more committee members, just not going to be very exciting. We'd love to have you on the team, Kyle. Please feel free to come and bring a friend

Mark Potwora
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If it wasn't for all the public out cry about the bonus's would the bonus program still be in place...Maybe with all this public out cry about over the top wages at the GCEDC they will lower them to an average of what other IDA heads in the state make..Mr.Cook pointing out that people complaining about Mr.Hyde's 200,000 dollar a year salary makes him feel uncomfortable...."How long can you really enjoy your occupation with the negative scrutiny? Certainly, scrutiny is not inappropriate for what he does. That's to be expected. We're uncomfortable for the potential that he is uncomfortable to the point of being discouraged enough to the point of leaving."....Very arrogant statement Mr.Cook...I'm sure you will all be back to the table next year asking the county to give you money so you can maintain these high wages...If the county held back their funding would you still be giving out 12% raises...

Mr.Cook's point The assistance helps level the playing field for company's like Liberty Pumps that are based in high-tax New York and must compete against companies based overseas or in lower-tax states.......How do we do the same for property owner in this state..How do we level that field when you are giving out tax abatements to retains jobs..Not create but retain.....How do we support our schools,cities and towns if we keep handing out tax abatements to every one who comes along...What about when these jobs never happen .Do you go back and get the tax break you gave them.........Why are we still at a 8% unemployment rate with all these jobs Mr.Hyde created.? Why do we have a shrinking tax base in Genessee County?

Was Mr.Hyde upset when they took away his membership to the Stafford Country Club...Did he want to leave then...

Dave Olsen
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sounds like a Batavian poll subject to me.

Bob Harker
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Dave, is there an active Libertarian Party in Orleans county?

Dave Olsen
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I do not know, Bob. There is the Greater Rochester Libertarian Party, which the Genesee County Libertarian Committee is currently a part of until we file all the necessary NYS Elections paperwork to be separate. You could check with them re Orleans County.

http://rochesterlp.net/

Mark Potwora
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The whole thing proves that every one wants a hand out in one form or another..No wonder the whole system is broke......There is a book put out by Sen.Tom Coburn called the waste book..
The Pepsi yogurt project ranked No. 24 out of 100 on Coburn’s list for 2012.
In an entry titled “Corporate welfare for the world’s largest snack food maker,” Coburn points out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce are spending more than $1.3 million to help PepsiCo Inc. build a Greek yogurt factory in Genesee County....Corporate Welfare.....

Mark Potwora
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Here a link to a web site showing unemployment thru the years 1990-2012...The last four years we had high unemployment..These rates show that GCEDC has not grown or created jobs in the last four years .In fact we have lost jobs under Mr.Hyde's reign..Just another reason he is undeserving of a 200,000 dollar a year salary..Not to mention all the bonus'es paid out in recent years..
http://rocdocs.democratandchronicle.com/database/unemployment-new-york

Jack Dorf
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Mark, I don't agree with the bonuses that were handed out either, but to place blame on the GCEDC for a net loss of jobs over the last 22 years in Genesee County is really something they can't control. I believe they are doing their best to improve our county. I hate corporate welfare also but sadly it's something that has to happen for our county to compete.

Mark Potwora
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Jack i was only trying to make a point ..If the GCEDC wants to claim what a great job they do and that we should have the highest paid IDA in the state then we need some kind of benchmak to judge him on .In this case unemployment rates would be one..Also to make it on a list of top pork projects in the USA would be another way to judge..They are claiming that what they do does effect unemployment rates..I just don't see it..I think in the long run IDA's erode the tax base causing the rest us to pay higher property taxes in the long run..Every city town and county all have some kind of IDA structure ..All with a staff giving out tax breaks to all who knock on there door...Tells me that the whole tax system in New York State is messed up and no one wants to anything about it ,But create 200,000 dollar a year IDA positions...

Jack Dorf
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I agree that the system is a mess but our GCEDC is only playing in a game where the rules were created else where. I believe the whole tax relief process was started in southern states. The fact is they have helped in creating jobs and starting new business growth. I see an Ag. Tech park that is growing, development by the airport, the beginnings of a high tech park in Oakfield Alabama, industrial development north along I90. The majority of this growth has happened during one of the largest economic slowdowns we have ever had. From what I see we are only in the first few innings of the game.

I would like to see a breakdown of how all the counties are doing in NY based on new business growth and what each of Mr. Hydes equal peers make per year.

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