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February 18, 2004
My brother Harley likes to ramble about the Class of 79, but I want to talk about the bigger picture of Portville - and her general state in the here and now.  And since I run the business end of the Hawbaker empire, I tend to look at the economic side of things.  I don't like it, but we're all being run over by the almighty dollar and capitalism, so we gotta face reality square in the eye.
Portville has always been a quaint, bedroom community whose industrial days ended long ago.  The main industry for the last 50 years has been the public school, which now employs around 200 people.  Olean is the big city where most Portvillians work.  Most people like it that way, because it keeps the town relatively quiet and rural.  Action is centered around the school.
In 2004, some of the biggest employers in town include Sprague's Restaraunt, Portville Truck, that carpet place, and I can't remember what, but things are not looking great overall.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I think people and businesses could use some more money around here.
Of course, Portville economic hardships are intimately tied to the depressed region - New York State, Appalachia, Western New York, the Southern Tier, and the Rust Belt in general.  It's hard to believe the level of poverty that exists in Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties, when we are situated so close to the powerful cities of NYC and Toronto.  The same can be said about Buffalo's location and poverty. 
In many ways, we are a distant suburb of Buffalo, closely tied to all of the WNY towns, much like an extended family.  While most of the rest of the nation rebounded economically during the 80s and 90s, Portville and Buffalo were hit hard by population loss and both increased their dependance on government.
One thing that has really had a negative impact on this area is the lack of effective thruways connecting the Southern Tier with Buffalo, Interstate 90, and New York City.  Route 219 from Buffalo was supposed to be a 4-laner, but it never got finished.  A nice 4-laner from Buffalo to Olean would be the ideal road, but that's probably asking for too much.
As well, the Southern Tier Expressway, now federal Route 86, was only recently extended through the Seneca Reservation.  That conflict took decades to resolve.  As well, the 4-laner turns into 2 lanes at several spots.  All of these transportation barriers have discouraged businesses from locating here, particularly in the last 50 years when it should have happened, but did not.
Did Imention the state's high tax rates and difficult business atmosphere, which have driven thousands of companies and millions of individuals out of the state and region?  The mass exodus to the South and West is a powerful, historical force that dominates the whole bleak picture of the Great Lakes Rust Belt region - a region that, 75-100 years ago, was the most prosperous population belt in the world.
This population and prosperity shift to California, Texas, and other states outside of the Northeast and Rust belt cannot be underestimated.  Climate is the major force behind this huge phenomenon, and we cannot do much about that.  As well, there is alot more room out West.  The exodus from the Northeast will continue for another 100 years, losing folks to the South, Southwest, Midwest, and West.
The government and powers that be claim that within 10 years, 219 and 86 will be complete 4-laners, serving as the major arteries for economic development.  This will probably help the exit towns like Salamanca, Allegany, Olean, Cuba, and others, but I wonder about the off-the-beaten-path places like Portville that are slowly dying.  Look at Bolivar, Richburg, Shinglehouse, Andover, Scio, Belmont, and others over the past 50 years.  Is Portville on the same path?
We have alot of Appalachian poverty in this area.  Some people don't like it.  Other people don't mind.  Most people are ruled by real and imaginary forces that are too big.  One thing for sure, most of the kids head out for good, retaining fond memories of the town.
Whether in sports, politics, or business, America has always been about competition.  Around here, towns have to compete with one another to attract the very few businesses that want to make a go at it.  Small businesses come and go, while bigger companies sell less product outside of the area.
Towns compete against each other, regions compete, states fight for prosperity, and even within communities, organizations, churches, schools, and dozens of groups compete for the same, few dollars available for charity and support.  In Portville, the town is so tapped out, that school teams and groups are limited to one fund-raiser per year.  You don't see that in prosperous towns.
I really don't think Portvillians want to attract any big, dirty industries or companies to the town.  They would rather drive 30-60 minutes to work and leave the town for raising kids and supporting the school.  They want to keep it clean and Colonial, streets plowed by 6 or 7.
But I do believe that Portville would welcome a few more quiet cottage industries - like small businesses of 6-15 employees that make and/or sell smallish products from an old home locally and to the world via the Internet and modern shipping methods.  Or unique-specialty places that draw in people from the whole region, like Sprague's.