Elmira made national headlines this week, but it wasn’t exactly something the city wants to be recognized for.
An article published in USA Today on Monday, Feb. 25, cited Moody Analytics in reporting that just two metro areas in the entire country are currently in a recession – Elmira, New York and Danville, Illinois.
The article traces Elmira’s downward spiral from when it was a “boom town” and a “vibrant hub,” to what it is now – a city struggling with high unemployment, low job growth, an aging population, and a shrinking consumer base.
Many of the residents 18 News spoke to on Tuesday said the article resonated with them.
“The feeling, or aura around our area has been so sad for so long, said Delcine Chimileski. Delcine and her husband are lifelong Elmira residents, but they’re planning to leave New York state soon.
She still has hope for the city though.
“Yeah there’s hope, there’s definitely hope for all of us,” Chimileski said. “It’s just the hard work involved that’s gotta happen.”
Carol Hall, who moved to Elmira from the suburbs of Philadelphia 45 years ago, echoed a similar sentiment.
“I’m always optimistic about change, for the positive,” Hall said. “We moved here, we stayed here, we committed to our community, and we;ve done very well. I mean we’re not living high on the hog but all our needs are being met.”
But she’s not surprised that Elmira is currently in a recession, citing the lack of opportunity as the primary cause.
“There just isn’t anything,” she said. “Kids who graduate don’t even want to stay in Elmira. They want to leave, I mean they have good reason to.”
Hall said she feels “blessed” that two of her three sons have stayed in Elmira. “My other one will not come back to the area, he says there’s nothing here for him.”
17-year old Lindsey Casteline recently moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Elmira, where her father is from. She said she doesn’t plan to stay here permanently. Comparing Charlotte to Elmira, she said her new home is “not vibrant at all, more rundown, like you can definitely tell we’re in a recession.”
City officials, however, maintain that Elmira is gearing up for a major comeback, something that the USA Today article does acknowledge.
“Elmira is starting to go through a Renaissance right now,” said Mayor Dan Mandell. “It’s starting to turn itself around.”
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Chemung County Executive Chris Moss said. “You have a lot of different entities working together to make Elmira successful, to make Chemung County successful.”
Both the article and local officials point to the recently awarded $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initative, and the incoming LECOM medical school as reasons to remain optimistic about the city’s future.
“It took us 35-40 years to get to where we’re at,” Mayor Mandell said. “This turnaround is not going to happen overnight, but I can assure people the turnaround is going to happen quicker than how we got to this point.”
They’re especially hoping LECOM will help bring jobs into the area, because as the USA Today article points out, stagnant job growth and falling employment rates plague the city’s economy. The article claims the city’s reliance on the manufacturing industry is largely to blame – locals agree.
“The days of big manufacturing are truly gone for this area,” Moss said. “The days of A&P, American LaFrance, General Electric, they’ve all left the area.”
But should officials focus on expanding the businesses that are still in Elmira, like Hilliard Corporation, Howell Packaging, and Kennedy Valve, or direct their attention instead towards drawing new businesses into the area?
“I say we do both,” Mayor Mandell said.
Moss agrees. “We need to focus on the businesses that are still here[…]to make sure they’re in good financial condition, hopefully to stay here,” Moss said. “But I think we need to focus on smaller businesses. One of the complaints I hear – we have these pilot programs for businesses that move in, get big tax incentives, then leave the area. What about mom & pop stores, the individuals that own two or three businesses in the area? So we’re really trying to focus on how we can help them.”
Residents weighed in on the battle for business as well.
“Usually when a new business comes in, they get a big tax break. They shouldn’t,” said Richard Halstead, a former Elmira resident. That’s what’s wrong with a lot of the communities in the United States.[…]Everybody gets a big tax break for 10 years, when their 10 years are up, they’re gone. They could care less about the community.”
Elmira resident Ron Synder added, “I think any new business that comes in we should welcome and not chase away[…]We always welcome new business if it’s available but it’s not easy to bring in.”