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In 1994, Livingston County faced the closing of the Akzo Nobel N.V. salt mine in Groveland after it was flooded.
But rather than let the mine-one of the county's largest employers-remain closed, county and business leaders stepped up efforts to get another mine into operation.
That happened in 2001 when American Rock Salt LLC went into operation. Today it operates the largest salt mine in the Western Hemisphere and employs up to 350 people.
A key player in those efforts was Patrick Rountree, executive director of the Livingston County Economic Development Office, the county's industrial development agency and development corporation. It is one of his proudest moments on the job.
Rountree, 60, plans to retire as Livingston County's economic developer at year-end, capping a 24-year career with the county that included integral roles in landing a pasta-making plant and helping to refill a vacant factory with businesses.
"My upbringing was as the son of a chemical factory worker in which salt from this area was the raw ingredient for chemicals," he said. "I felt passionate about saving the livelihood of the miners, truckers and railroad blue-collar workers."
Rountree was hired by Livingston County in 1988 to start an economic development operation and to run its IDA. The Livingston County Microenterprise Assistance program, Downtown Revitalization Villages program, Small Business Loan Fund and Business/Education Alliance were started through his office.
Before then, he had worked on development efforts in Erie and Orleans counties.
The county's Board of Supervisors was expected to appoint Julie Marshall as the new executive director this week. Marshall has been deputy director to Rountree for 12 years.
Ian Coyle, Livingston County administrator, spoke this week of Rountree's profound positive impact on the business and economic climate of the county.
"Pat has been economic development in Livingston County since his commencement of employment as the county's first economic developer," Coyle said.
He noted that Rountree's specialties include small business development, helping businesses grow organically and agribusiness, which is one of the county's niches.
"His ability to advocate at the local, state and national stage for legislation benefiting our efforts was a special skill set he possessed," Coyle said.
In addition to the salt mine, Rountree assisted in the redevelopment of the former Foster Wheeler Ltd. complex in Dans-ville. Today several companies operate at the Dansville plant, employing more than 350 people.
Rountree also spoke of leading the charge to bring Barilla America Inc. to Avon. Barilla's 300,000-square-foot pasta plant and warehouse opened in 2007 and today employ 200.
Also during Rountree's tenure, Kraft Foods Inc.'s Livingston County plant become the company's sole manufacturing plant for Cool Whip, as well as having several production lines for Oscar Mayer Lunchables. The 56-acre plant employs more than 400 people.
Rountree has been active in regional economic development efforts and community organizations. He has served on the New York State Economic Development Council, the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. and others.
Rountree said he will most miss leading a group that "thrived on the challenge of doing what conventional wisdom said could not be accomplished."
He is ready to step back from the job, saying he will not miss some things-particularly dealing with state bureaucracy. For example, he has issues with the state government's limited timeframe for funding applications for businesses, regardless of a firm's own investment plans.
"My biggest frustration is that New York State (government) seriously believes businesses will alter their investment plans to conform with consolidated funding application cycles that are only offered once a year," Rountree said.
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