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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Rural America disappearing?"

ALBANY, Aug. 8 -- I don’t know how many of you saw it recently, but it sure caught my attention. It was an Associated Press report culled from the latest 2010 Census numbers and the article I read carried this headline: “Rural U.S. disappearing? Population share hits low.”

Following was the article’s lead paragraph: “Rural America now accounts for just 16 percent of the nation's population, the lowest ever. The latest 2010 census numbers hint at an emerging America where, by midcentury, city boundaries become indistinct and rural areas grow ever less relevant. Many communities could shrink to virtual ghost towns as they shutter businesses and close down schools, demographers say.”

That’s a pretty alarming and stark assessment, to say the least, although it’s not one I completely share for rural New York. At least not yet. But the concern is real and deserves to be taken seriously. The short- and long-term challenges facing rural New York are undeniable.

While roughly 44 of New York’s 62 counties remain classified as rural, we’ve clearly witnessed the decline and ongoing struggle of countless rural communities across the upstate region over the past generation. It’s occurred as the state’s manufacturing base has steadily disappeared and
significant population losses have followed. In my short time as a member of the state Legislature, it’s also become clear how rural regions struggle to stay relevant in a government so dominated by largely downstate, urban-oriented leaders.

Upstate’s decline has been a tough luck story for decades, we know that. But the region as a whole is far from approaching “ghost town” status, and opportunities exist to turn it around. So I continue to be grateful, as one of several new members of the Legislature’s joint, bipartisan
Commission on the Development of Rural Resources (commonly known as the Rural Resources Commission), for the chance to address the challenge. The commission has long been noted as a voice of rural New York within the Legislature. Its work has helped focus attention on the needs of our rural communities and economies here at home and statewide. It's currently chaired by western New York Senator Catharine Young, and members include local Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

State legislators established the commission nearly three decades ago, in 1982, to examine the impact of rural communities and industries on the state economy, assess the effectiveness of state programs affecting rural areas, and otherwise develop recommendations to enhance and protect rural resources. Through the years, it’s helped produce landmark achievements on a range of issues in the areas of agriculture, economic development, universal broadband, education, land use, transportation and health care.

I’ll also note that our region is fortunate to be home to Cornell University, which has long played a leading role in rural affairs nationally and in New York. The commission has often partnered with Cornell and it makes sense, in my view, to further develop a working partnership with the university to promote a shared vision and common goals for rural New York’s future.

Rural communities remain a mainstay of this region’s culture and economy. The challenges are many, but so are the opportunities – as long as we remain committed. I’m confident that the Legislature’s Rural Resources Commission will advance an even more aggressive and comprehensive "Rural New York Agenda” in the coming year.

The latest Census numbers reveal a bleak story for the future of rural America. But we’re still trying to write a more hopeful chapter for the future of rural New York.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869