Both municipalities are among the recently-announced winners of funding through New York’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI).
Officials are still in the early stages of deciding where to distribute the funds, but the list of potential projects in Norwich includes workforce development programming.
“So looking at micro-credentialing programs and how to support workforce development,” explained Kerri Green, the president and CEO of Commerce Chenango, the county’s chamber of commerce and industrial development agency.
Green spearheaded the DRI application process for Norwich. She said the local planning committee overseeing the funds is working with SUNY Morrisville, which has a campus in Norwich, to establish a workforce training center.
Attracting a professional workforce has been a challenge in Chenango County, but Green added that the increase in remote work and DRI funds create an exciting opportunity to address the issue.
“Trying to get the right staff, trying to attract the right people to the area—it really goes hand in hand,” Green said.
Attracting new professionals, however, also requires housing for them, which Green said Norwich lacks. Officials are looking at how to use the grant money to create mixed-use developments, with shops and restaurants on the bottom floor and apartments on top.
Still, renovating the city’s older buildings will be costly for developers.
“They would never get them filled if they had to charge [renters] what they needed to do the space updates,” Green said.
The city is exploring the potential for a fund for downtown property owners who are interested in making their buildings mixed-use, and ways to attract small businesses to fill storefronts. Green said the city’s strategic plan could include grants for small businesses who would not otherwise be able to afford retail space.
The planning committee is looking at shared micro-retail space as a way to lower the cost of operating for businesses.
“It’s so easy for people to say, well, ‘I’ll just set up a shop online,’ or ‘I’ll just sell things online,’” Green said. “But then you missed that customer face-to-face interaction, which I think is super important.”
Officials in the Village of Endicott also want to attract more workers. Endicott Mayor Linda Jackson said she hopes to use their piece of the funds to add more amenities, like an ice-skating rink and farmer’s market.
“We want to bring people to Endicott to work and then they’ll want to live here in Endicott once we get them here,” Jackson said.
The village may also use the funding to redo parking lots off of Washington Avenue, the main thoroughfare in downtown Endicott.
New York launched its urban improvement initiative in 2016. It is expected to commit $200 million to projects in the latest round of funding.