The Valley of Missed Opportunity

One Town's Fight for Economic Revival
May 24, 2015 Updated: May 24, 2015

 WINDSOR, N.Y.—Marian’s Pizza Shack sits 10 miles north of the Pennsylvania line, an invisible boundary that separates this small business from economic opportunity.

After 23 years in business, owner Marian Szarejko has decided to sell her pizza shack.

“There are no jobs here,” Szarejko said. “Business has gone down so much that I am dipping into my savings just to keep this afloat.”

Szarejko’s decision echoes a common theme that has plagued the southern tier of upstate New York for years: a lack of economic development.

“If I owned a place in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t be thinking of closing. I would be thinking about expanding,” Szarejko said. “The difference is they did fracking.”

The issue of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, has emerged as a contentious national debate. Communities and states are deciding whether to embrace or ban the new form of natural gas extraction.

But nowhere is the issue as real as it is for upstate New Yorkers who see the prosperity of neighboring communities in Pennsylvania.

New York and Pennsylvania are two of five states that sit above the nation’s largest natural gas field, the Marcellus Shale.

Fracking Banned

New York bans fracking. Pennsylvania allows it.

The Daily Signal traveled to the two states’ border to talk to residents about which policy has improved lives.

Since 2007, Pennsylvania has seen a rapid expansion of the natural gas industry though fracking, resulting in economic opportunity and growth.

This is a drastic contrast to communities just a few miles north in upstate New York, which have been under a statewide fracking moratorium since 2008.

If I owned a place in Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t be thinking of closing. I would be thinking about expanding.
— Marian Szarejko, business owner

Carolyn Price, town supervisor of Windsor, N.Y., says high taxes and regulations are holding back the southern tier of upstate New York, an area that has rich natural resources.

“Our town is blessed with natural resources, blue stone, timber, natural gas, and wonderful people,” Price said. “We are trying to make all of this come together, so this town can truly prosper.”

Price believes that accessing local natural resources could encourage new industries and economic development in this small rural town.

“I’ve said this from the very beginning, what would truly save this town and move economic development very fast would be the development of the Marcellus Shale,” Price said. “But, we wanted to make sure this is what the people want.”

Last fall, the town conducted a survey of property owners and residents asking them if they wanted the town to allow the extraction of natural gas and oil. Over 5,000 surveys were sent out, 3,000 returned, and 66 percent of the respondents said yes.

“We continue to try and met the needs of what the people want,” Price said.

On Dec. 17, 2014, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that his administration would permanently block the development of high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York State, because of environmental and health concerns.

“What can we do in these areas to generate jobs and generate wealth, for people who can’t pay their mortgage and can’t pay their taxes as an alternative to fracking?” Gov. Cuomo said at the time. “The point is they need jobs and they need incomes.”

The governor’s decision came on the same day that a proposed upstate casino was rejected by a state board. Both decisions left many in the southern tier worried about their economic future.

Worried New Yorkers

“We are New Yorkers, we have been New Yorkers, we should not have to move into another state to access what is right in our state,” Szarejko said.

Gerald Urda, an organic fruit farmer in Windsor, N.Y., says the governor is ignoring the needs of the southern tier.

“I think our governor has forgotten about Broome County,” Urda said. “If he came here and looked at main street, he could see that we would need some help. I think the help would have come from gas drilling.”

I’ve said this from the very beginning, what would truly save this town and move economic development very fast would be the development of the Marcellus Shale.
— Carolyn Price, town supervisor, Windsor, N.Y.

Doug McLinko, chairman of the Bradford County Board of Commissioners, has seen the impact natural gas has had in Pennsylvania and his county.

“We are the most drilled on county in the Marcellus Shale,” McLinko said. “We flow the most gas in the state. The last eight to ten years has been the most incredible boom of prosperity I have ever witnessed in my life.”

Rural PA

According to a 2014 report published by The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, Bradford County saw a 19 percent increase in taxable income from 2007 to 2010, providing additional revenue for investment in the county.

“We have seen 200 million dollars in market value go into our county,” McLinko said. “The ripple effects are we have cut taxes and eliminated out county debt.”

“When I look across the border to New York State, once again it is bad policy affecting awfully good people up there.”

According to the Upstate New York Towns Association, small businesses in New York pay significantly more in payroll and property taxes than businesses just a few miles south in Pennsylvania.

“High taxes and high regulations are holding Windsor back,” Price said.

Szarejko worries about the future of upstate New York.

“I want upstate New York to grow and thrive, that’s what I want to see for this community, Szarejko said. “If we continue the way we are going, on the road we are on right now, your kids are going to be gone, us older people are going to die, and there will be nothing left.”

Price is still holding out some hope.

“We have become the valley of missed opportunity,” Price said. “We are trying to restore hope and optimism in people that we can still do this.”

Alex Anderson is a news producer for The Daily Signal.