December 26, 2007


Past lessons on doing one’s best help guide new economic leader


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Tom Gillson, shown Monday outside the Cortland CountyCourthouse, will replace Linda Hartsock as the new executive director of the Cortland CountyBusinessDevelopment Corporation-Industrial Develop Agency. The Cortland CountyBDC-IDA offices are located next to the courthouse at 37 Church St.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A little more than six years ago, Thomas Gillson lost his 17 year-old-son in an automobile accident, and five years ago developed kidney cancer.
While he has come to peace with his son’s death, and drugs have tempered the cancer, he has come to realize the fragility of life, and the importance of having priorities and doing one’s best.
“You never know what tomorrow is going to bring,” said Gillson, 58, of DeWitt.
Gillson, who will start as executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency on Jan. 2, said that philosophy will guide how he conducts his new job.
His first priority will be helping companies that already exist in Cortland, and his second priority will be bringing companies — primarily manufacturing companies — to the area, he said.
“I’m not a marketing guy,” Gillson said, noting he will delegate those tasks to others, such as Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce. “I’m a nuts and bolts guy … My time is better spent working with companies.”
VanGorder said he would welcome the new role. He has a background in communications and public relations, including three years as communications director for the Metropolitan Development Association, an economic development organization based in Syracuse.
“We talked about it briefly after he accepted the offer, and the context was he wanted the Chamber of Commerce and all the organizations in town to form a good effective working partnership with the BDC-IDA, and I offered helping … ,” he said.
Gillson, is replacing Linda Hartsock, now regional director of Empire State Development, Gillson’s former job. He said he will focus his time on communicating with already existing local companies, big and small alike, to learn what problems they are facing.
By keeping tabs he can try to help them get through their problems, or perceived problems. Solutions might include helping them secure state funding for expansion, helping them get rail access or helping them get a contract, he said.
Hartsock commended Gillson for that goal, saying that was also a focus for herself as the county’s economic development head.
She had monthly Cortland Business Network meetings that company heads would attend and voice concerns at.
“It was everything from someone needing a piece of equipment and wondering how to finance it to needing more production capacity on the floor and needing to expand to them having financial troubles and needing to improve the bottom line,” she said.
Gillson, who will earn $82,500 per year plus benefits in his new position, was quick to point out there is only so much economic development officials can do from their end. Companies, such as Nestle in Fulton and Carrier in Syracuse in the past, might not be willing to communicate or might be forced out of business due to measures beyond the control of economic development officials.
“A lot of it needs to be fixed in Albany,” he said, noting he believes a high number of costly regulatory measures are the biggest problem.
But sometimes communication could make a difference between a business staying and going, he said. “People can call anytime,” he said, noting he is willing to take calls late into the evening.
Gillson said another priority is bringing new business to the area. He said he favors bringing in manufacturing businesses because they create net wealth for the region and generally pay well.
In terms of the types of manufacturing, he said a variety is probably best. If one manufacturing sector did poorly, not all businesses would be hurt, he said.
“The area has traditionally had a diversity of companies,” Gillson said. “We didn’t get the peaks and valleys other parts of the country got.”
He said at this point he is not too familiar with the commercial sites and amenities in the county, but intends to learn all about them as soon he starts his job.
David Yaman, owner of David Yaman Realty Services, has offered to give him a tour of the commercial properties he has listed for sale, he said.
He said one idea he has to make sites more attractive for potential businesses involves having “spec” buildings on sites. Companies might be more willing to relocate to Cortland if that infrastructure is already here, he said.
Gillson said so far no economic development offices in Central New York have done this, and there is no state funding in place designated for the effort.
He said hopefully the Cortland office could get some funding from Assembly and state Senate grants for the project. The office could go to Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s office to seek remaining funding, he said.
“If we do one we’ll be a groundbreaker,” he said. “It would be a new initiative.”
At this point Gillson said he does not have any idea for where spec buildings could go.
MaryAnne Gillson, Tom Gillson’s wife, said she thinks her husband is up for the new challenge in his life. Tough times in their life have only made him stronger, she said.
“We have to make do with the setbacks and bumps in the road,” she said. “You just look at it as something that’s another challenge, be thankful for what you have and make the best of what you can.”