Rich in history and natural beauty, Herkimer County is among New York’s larger counties in square miles and one of the least densely populated. Its 1,400 square miles are home to about 64,000 people.
In part because of its long, remarkable history and in spite of a lack of population growth over the last century, Herkimer County comprises a staggering number of municipal governments: One city, Little Falls; 19 towns; 10 villages and six hamlets/census-designated areas. And each of these local governments works to address challenges that cut across municipal lines, such as significant joblessness for 18- to 24-year-olds; rising addiction rates; high rates of rural poverty; and fragmented tourism, economic development and community assets.
“For more than a year, we’ve been working with a core group of Herkimer County municipal leaders, including County Administrator and Community Foundation Trustee Jim Wallace, to encourage a county-wide approach to these challenges,” said Community Foundation President/CEO Alicia Dicks. “These government leaders have embraced this effort and shared its importance with many of their stakeholders, and we’re well on our way to providing a county-wide community development plan.”
With funding from The Community Foundation and municipal government partners, the initiative will provide a cohesive, data-driven strategy identifying opportunities to enrich and enhance economic growth and community prosperity in several ways:
- Build county-wide collaboration in partnership with all levels of government, stakeholders and nonprofits; seek innovative public-private solutions to long-standing challenges
- Bridge gaps between municipal boundaries, recognizing and building on the county’s strengths as a livable, workable, commutable region
- Create an ecosystem that develops the county’s canal corridor and north/south strengths, leveraging opportunities for growth, focused on the promotion of agribusiness and innovative regional working solutions
- Capitalize on historical and natural tourism assets to attract greater numbers of first-time and return visitors; identify, develop and promote logical linkages between and among tourist destinations
Championed by Little Falls Mayor Mark Blask and Community Foundation Trustees Tim Daly and Cathleen McColgin, the Herkimer County Community Development Plan initiative will seek to overcome municipal and geographic fragmentation by building a shared vision and strategy and pragmatic action plan that leverages and attracts resources improving the overall quality of life.
“Our municipal partners determined the scope of work and inventoried current planning, statistical data and development documents,” said Joe Wicks, Community Foundation special projects manager. “Through a request for proposals process, a firm is being selected to guide key aspects of the project, and The Community Foundation will manage that firm’s contract on behalf of all the partners.”
While many of the county’s municipalities have pledged to contribute toward the initiative, and Herkimer County government has committed to fund a significant portion of the estimated quarter million dollar project, The Community Foundation will continue to lead and invest substantially in this effort, providing a framework that will pay dividends for generations of future Herkimer County residents.
“The potential for charting and realizing Herkimer County’s future is enormous,” said Dicks. “More and more, this is the kind of work that The Community Foundation is doing to invest the community’s dollars for the greatest possible positive impact.”