During a recent interview at City Hall, Jody Zakrevsky, director of the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, took a binder of papers off his desk that was at least four inches thick, and put it down on the board room table; it was the paperwork required for a recent project that generated three new jobs in the city. He explained how it took about the same volume of paperwork to get funding for a project that would create a handful of jobs as it was for a project that would generate hundreds. He said that AIDA’s willingness to take on those smaller projects is why the organization plays an essential role in the city’s economic development efforts.
“Even with smaller expansions and smaller types of job creation, we are still successful when it comes to…getting financial assistance from the state,” said Zakrevsky. “And I think we’ve provided that type of service that unfortunately most economic development organizations don’t really spend the time in working with.”
Zakrevsky pointed to the example how AIDA was recently able to help Amsterdam-based Beckman Converting, Inc secure a $70,000 grant for an expansion that created three jobs.
“I mean when you talk about three jobs to a lot of economic development organizations, that’s not a lot – so why should we bother? To AIDA it’s important,” said Zakrevsky.
He explained, “It’s important because while it’s three jobs, it was basically two of the three major production lines that required those improvements.”
“So if they didn’t do those two improvements, it wouldn’t have been those three jobs that weren’t created, it would have been those 35 people that lost their jobs over the next four to five years because they would have gone out of business.”
He also defended the organization’s involvement with recently securing a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Noteworthy Company.
“Everybody says why are you doing anything with Noteworthy? Well they have 120 people there. And we want to keep those 120 people and add 30 over the next ten years,” said Zakrevsky. “Is that a glamorous project? No…but it’s saving those 120 jobs that is important to us.”
I asked Zakrevsky if the term “industrial” was still relevant to AIDA’s work, given the exodus of manufacturing jobs to other countries over the past decades.
He replied, “It still applies to AIDA, because I think unlike most other cities in the northeast, the City of Amsterdam has quite a few manufacturing companies, which is somewhat unusual.”
“When you look at companies like AGT, Beckman‘s, Mohawk Fabrics, Mohawk Lifts, Breton Industries…those are…decent sized manufacturing companies that exist in the city, where if you look at other communities in the northeast, they don’t have that concentration of manufacturing.”
Zakrevsky added that although most Amsterdam-based manufacturing companies are not household names, they are well known in their fields for the specialized work they do.
While working with manufacturers will continue to be a priority for AIDA in the future, Zakrevsky said that the organization has diversified in recent years, most notably by getting involved with rehabilitating 46 Main Street in the city’s downtown area to accommodate first floor retail space and second floor apartments.
With the upcoming opening of the pedestrian bridge, and the proposed train station re-location to the downtown area, Zakrevsky predicted, “Over the next few years, there’s going to be a lot of investment made in downtown, both on the north side and south side of the river.”
He said that AIDA is currently pursing a marketing and feasibility study for the downtown area. Information from that study could help them decide what to do with another one of their downtown properties, the former Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame building which was recently vacated.
In addition to the downtown area, he said that AIDA is looking at the possibility of expanding and upgrading the city’s existing industrial park. He said that planned expansion by AGT Services, which tests and repairs electric generators, will require a more reliable or redundant power supply. He said AIDA is also looking for opportunities to develop the former Mohasco property and areas in the city’s east end.
Zakrevsky also said that Mayor Michael Villa has made finding a developer to build a hotel on the Chalmer’s property on the south side of the city a priority. Although AIDA does not report directly to the mayor, and given it’s board is selected by the common council, Zakrevsky says he believes AIDA should integrate its goals with those set forth by the city’s elected officials.
In regards to the hotel effort, he said, “This is one of the areas we need to work more closely with [Montgomery County] on. Clearly, the mayor has that as priority to develop that site. And I know for both [MCBDC CEO Ken Rose] and I have been working with a recent site selection firm that came up to look up the feasibility of doing some development on that site. He met with them in the morning, we met with them in the afternoon. We should have met with them together.”
Zakrevsky was quick to point out that his organization was not competing with the county, and that overall the two organizations enjoy a good working relationship.
He said that the county’s strength is that they have budget for marketing, which the city does not have. He added that most large companies, when scouting for locations, will typically contact county officials first.
“Ken’s organization is very helpful…when someone contacts them, either they can do the work themselves or they can ask us for assistance in putting together some of these financial packages,” said Zakrevsky.
Zakrevsky pointed out that one major difference between AIDA and the county’s economic development department is that the Montgomery County Business Development Center is staffed with employees who draw a salary from the county. However, AIDA does not receive any regular funding from the city, county or any other entity. Rather, the organization supports itself with income from the leasing of its properties, as well as from the administration fees associated with loans and PILOT programs.
Zakrevsky said that was pleased to see the organization’s revenue begin to stabilize over the past several years.
“About five years ago, people had sort of written off AIDA as going out of business, that we weren’t going to be able to survive,” recalled Zakrevsky. “We’ve taken a number of steps to re-sure our finances…Right now, I think our future looks fairly promising”
“What we’ve been able to do here in the last four years here… is a tremendous amount more than anyone thought we could do,” added Zakrevsky. “And if we had more resources, we could double what we do.”