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Regional News

From Beer to Ethanol, Old Brewery Gets New Life

By Ryan Morden

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wrvo/local-wrvo-918683.mp3

Fulton, NY – There's a common theme when politicians talk about New York's economy. They promise that high-tech jobs, and green jobs, will replace manufacturing jobs. There is some evidence of that in Fulton New York. The oil company Sunoco is making ethanol in an old brewery. But economists caution that a green economy won't develop over night.

Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward says the city used to bustle around the clock at manufacturing plants, like Nestle and Miller Brewing.

"You could hear the traffic at night if you were around when shift changed. People coming and going. You'd hear all the talking and laughter, and there were people complaining because they made noise," said Woodward.

Now the Fulton is quiet at night. Just like the rest of New York State, the economy used to be largely manufacturing based, but now those firms have left. Miller left their brewery in the 90s, eliminating several hundred well paying jobs. The plant was mothballed for years. The deer took over.

"When I was driving down 481 when Miller shut down I saw a deer running in the field out there," said Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski. "Nothing against deer, but I would like to see a little more activity than just wild life outside this facility."

Barclay may be getting what he wants. The old brewery was recently retrofitted to make corn-based ethanol, a form of renewable energy. Barclay is confident that it will create steady jobs and revitalize the old manufacturing economy. That's a common theme around upstate New York.

Pete Wilcoxen is a professor of economics and public administration at Syracuse University. He urges caution when it comes to expectations for how project like the ethanol plant can change Fulton's fortunes.

"The thing that would be really good is if people could understand that their politicians can't deliver results over the length of a congressional term," said Wilcoxen.

He says the government hasn't been doing a good job for setting policies to encourage green technology and renewable energy.

"The viability of a lot of those things depends on government policies, especially Federal government policies," said Wilcoxen.

With the right policies in place, he says real economic progress will still take years, and more than just a single venture.

But he says it's hard to get politicians to accept that, they want results now.

"They run for reelection and we say, what did you fix since you were here last.' It's hard for them to deliver on that and they instead tend to end up focusing on things that aren't important, but are measurable in the short-term," said Wilcoxen.

The old measure of vibrancy in Fulton was the Nestle plant. Mayor Ron Woodward says you could smell it.

"Fulton of course used to traditionally smell like chocolate, especially on a rainy day or high humidity day," said Woodward.

While the city may never smell like chocolate or Miller's hops and malt ever again, Woodward says he is hopeful that the ethanol plant is a sign of better things to come.