By Jann Wiswall

A dozen or so leaders in Cattaraugus County’s arts and culture scene participated in the latest public forum held by the county’s economic development department on Sept. 20 at Jamestown Community College’s CUTCO Theater.

The fifth in a series of six public forums is designed to obtain community input in developing new goals and objectives for county development. Previous forums have covered economic development, agriculture, transportation and infrastructure, and natural resources. The final forum, to be held Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Cattaraugus County Center Building’s Legislative Chambers in Little Valley, will cover land use.

Representatives from the county tourism board, the Cattaraugus County Arts Council, business owners, the Southern Tier Symphony, Olean Community Theatre, and others provided feedback on how the arts and culture community can influence county economic development and be part of its growth. Meeting facilitator Laura Ryan led participants in exercises designed to clarify existing opportunities and deterrents to growth, brainstorm ideas and solutions, come up with specific strategies and tactics, and identify potential resources and action steps.

Cattaraugus County Arts Council Executive Director Anne Conroy-Baiter, who attended the forum, is “thrilled” that arts and culture is recognized as part of the county’s economic development.

“Many rural areas around the country have had tremendous success in building creative economies that attract significant tourism, drive economic growth and improve residents’ quality of life,” she said. “The creative community clearly has a central role to play in developing the county’s comprehensive plan.”

The last time a comprehensive economic development plan was developed for the county was in 1978. At that time, pointed out senior planner James H. Isaacson, the county’s population was 85,000 and population projections assumed an increase of 15,000, or 100,000 by year 2000.

“In fact, county population did not grow,” said Isaacson. It now stands at just 80,000.

“What we’ve found is that, primarily due to a lack of job opportunities, families with children have been moving out of the county, and college-aged students are not coming back after college,” said Isaacson. “Our goal is not specifically to increase county population, but rather to define what we can do to make the county an attractive place to live, work and raise families. If we can do that, we think we can keep people here and encourage others to move in.”

With those goals in mind, the department developed draft vision and mission statements that read:

Draft Vision Statement

Cattaraugus County’s vision is to provide the best living environment for our citizens, appealing to those seeking a well-balanced lifestyle with a peaceful, clean environment, with opportunities that entice our children to stay and raise their families.

Draft Mission Statement

It is the mission of Cattaraugus County to provide vital public services, promote business opportunities and ensure a balance between rural and urban development in a professional, efficient and fiscally responsible manner.

Isaacson emphasized that these are draft statements that represent living documents and are open to change as residents review and absorb their meaning.

Following completion of the final forum, the economic planning department will develop a set of goals and objectives for the county that will again be vetted by the community for additional feedback. For more information on the comprehensive planning process, contact Isaacson at (716) 938-2320 or email him at

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