If you attend enough business seminars, you are bound to hear the story — almost certainly more than once — about a certain apocryphal manufacturer of buggy whips.
Back in the early 20th century, buggy whips were used to encourage horses to pull wagons and carriages with greater efficiency. Of course, the horses might think that a too-polite way of stating that they were getting smacked whenever it pleased the driver.
This one company was prosperous and extremely proud of its buggy whips, proclaiming them the finest in all the land. It had been making them for 100 years, and saw no reason to change a business plan that had been working so well for so long.
What it didn’t figure on was the advent of the Model T automobile in 1908. The company stubbornly refused to adapt to the fact that fewer carriages meant far less need for buggy whips, and it soon went out of business.
The lesson, of course, is that businesses must adapt to new circumstances if they are going to thrive. The same can be said for municipalities, including our own in Oneonta.
Oneonta was a very important place in the first half of the last century when its railway roundhouse – built in 1906 – was considered the largest in the world. It was a place where even the longest steam locomotives could be serviced and/or stored.
Then, in 1952, the Delaware & Hudson Railway company switched to diesel power, and the Oneonta roundhouse became obsolete. In 1954, its demolition began, and in 1993, the remaining stalls (which were used mostly for storage) were demolished.
And there the roundhouse site has sat … and languished.
Last week it was announced that Oneonta Rail Yards, a newly created local development corporation, has purchased about 80 acres of property in the vicinity of the former roundhouse with the idea of giving a boost to the local economy.
We say hurray!
The corporation will “move aggressively” toward generating sites “shovel-ready” for construction on developable land, according to a media release. Oneonta Rail Yards is a subsidiary of Otsego Now, an economic development organization that includes the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency.
While no immediate economic bounty is guaranteed, it is beyond refreshing to see what’s going on.
Working hand-in-glove with the city of Oneonta’s comprehensive plan and its Downtown Redevelopment Initiative, Otsego Now and the IDA are to be applauded for their foresight.
“We plan to utilize the significant rail infrastructure here to create economic opportunity for all citizens in Otsego County and the greater region,” Alexander “Sandy” Mathes Jr., chief executive officer of Otsego Now, said in the release. “Our overall strategy combines work-force and skills development with the attraction of targeted sectors such as food processing, advanced manufacturing and distribution. Redevelopment of the rail yards is one of the cornerstones of our economic development strategy.”
Yes, the devil is always in the details, and there will be opposition to individual aspects of these economic initiatives, but someone is finally doing something in Oneonta with an eye on the future.
We have lamented in the past the destruction of the roundhouse, wondering what kind of museum and tourist attraction it could have been. But things are getting exciting around here now. Oneonta is getting out of the buggy whip business.