Year in review: A look back on 2019 milestones, projects

County saw year of economic development, community successes


2019 was a big year for Tompkins County. Tompkins Weekly has already touched on some of these areas, from affordable housing and waterfront developments to new childcare resources, but seeing as it’s the end of the year and the end of a decade, let’s take a broader look at what the county accomplished in one year’s time.


Perhaps the biggest milestone of 2019 came in the Ithaca-Tompkins International Airport’s rebranding and expansion, which officially opened in late December. Airport Director Mike Hall said the renovation took a little over a year to complete thanks to a dedicated group of workers.

The terminal itself is 40% larger and much airier, Hall said. Operations have become more efficient, technology has been upgraded, and the airport now has three airlines with dedicated gates. The expansion switched the terminal’s heat source from natural gas to ground-source heat pumps, saving about $50,000 per year in heating costs.

Hall said the airport’s rebranding as an international airport reflects its new global focus, which brings in international travelers to strengthen the area economy. The expansion, he explained, helps the airport become a destination, and the community is stronger when that means bringing diversity into the county.

“Diversity gives you opportunity,” Hall said. “Inclusion leverages that opportunity into prosperity, and while all of humankind struggles with inclusion, … when you set the tone for inclusion, and the better you do, the better off you’re going to be.”


Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD), which has provided financial assistance to many area businesses, reported in a recent press release several business milestones for the county in 2019.

Emmy’s Organics purchased a new building in Dryden this year, allowing the company to bring production back to the county, possibly creating new jobs and bringing more revenue into the county. South Hill Cider opened its new tasting room, and a TCAD loan to Dutch Harvest Farm in Lansing, a wedding and event space, allowed that business to accommodate at least 300 people.
TCAD President Heather McDaniel said Tompkins County is full of local businesses, and by helping them succeed, the county is better for it.

“Everybody wants that big, exciting press release about landing Google or Amazon and hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of capital investment, but all over upstate New York and in small communities, really, economic growth is lots of little companies creating five and 10 and 15 jobs over a period of five to 10 years, so it’s that incremental growth of lots of little companies that really strengthens our economy,” McDaniel said.

Jennifer Tavares, president of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, said another big business success in 2019 was the Chamber’s launch of the Live in Ithaca initiative, a project that culminated in a biannual magazine and the website,, which helps connect people looking for jobs with the available openings in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Tavares said the site, since its launch in March, has had over 500,000 impressions, and Live in Ithaca has distributed over 4,000 relocation guides across the whole country. With about 200 area employers on the site, its mission is to bring and retain works in the county.

“Having adequate workforce and the right workforce is the one of the biggest challenges that any of our businesses face here,” Tavares said. “In terms of being able to intelligently target the workforce that our area employers are most interested in attracting, we’re able to offer new tools to them through the Live in Ithaca initiative.”

In addition, 2019 saw the arrival of several small businesses to Ithaca, like Ithaca Sews, The Brain Shoppe, Adrina Dietra Luxury Lingerie, Bike Bar Ithaca, The Bloomwell, Mama Said Hand Pies and more.

“One of the things that we’re seeing is now that we have a pretty robust startup community that’s really aided by a number of incubators in the community,” McDaniel said.


In the education realm, 2019 was a big year for area schools and colleges. As for colleges, the Cornell Chronical reported several milestones for Cornell University. Research highlights include a study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which revealed that, since 1970, a total of nearly 3 billion birds have disappeared, decreasing the overall bird population by 25%.

2019 also saw the beginning of the North Campus Residential Expansion’s construction. The expansion will add about 2,000 student beds, dining facilities and recreation spaces, the Chronical reported.

For Ithaca College, Director of Public Relations Dave Maley said 2019 marked the arrival of new academic programs, like the new master of business administration degree program in entertainment and media management. It’s designed for business students who want to better understand the creative arts industry or creative arts students who want to understand the business side of entertainment. Students will be able to work with local organizations such as the State Theatre and WCNY.

“The program is housed in the school of business, but it also leverages the strengths of our school of music and the Roy H. Park School of Communications,” Maley said.

Ithaca College also established new partnerships with SUNY Schenectady’s school of business and Binghamton University’s pharmacy school. And its new First Generation Center, launched in May, provides more resources to help first-generation students throughout their academic journey.

“The college experience can be difficult to navigate for any student, but it can be harder for those who don’t have any college graduates in their families that they can go to for guidance and advice,” Maley said.

Tompkins Cortland Community College saw the addition of a new childcare center and a recovery space. President Orinthia Montague said the Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center provides much-needed services for the college and the county.

“While it is primarily for our students, we do allow residents in the community as well as faculty and staff to have their children there,” Montague said. “And so, I think that’s extremely beneficial. We know that daycare is a pressing issue between both Tompkins and Cortland counties.”

The Collegiate Recovery Community’s new Recovery Space provides resources for students struggling with substance abuse, which aligns with the mission that prompted TC3’s new mental health center in 2018.

“We’re trying to provide all these wrap-around services, recognizing that our students, because we’re an open-admission campus, everything that happens in their lives comes here with them, so how can we support them while they’re here to make them more successful?” Montague said.

Turning to elementary schools, according to a recent press release, on Dec. 19, Fall Creek Elementary School in Ithaca was awarded $3,550 from a Capacity Building Grant from Terra Science and Education, Inc.

The award allowed the school to purchase a Rigamajig Basic Builder Kit, a kit that includes over 200 pieces for students to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“The grant aims to make mastering standards exciting and more realistic for students due to the materials making more solid and sturdy products that can be used and tested to help solve real world problems,” according to the press release.


To conclude our 2019 wrap-up, Martha Robertson, chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, shared significant legislative moves that came this past year.

First, the Legislature secured $10 million from the Federal Aviation Administration for the Ithaca-Tompkins International Airport expansion. In November, the Legislature adopted the 2019-2023 Tompkins County Capital Program, putting it on course to become a net-zero county government by 2035.

“That’s one of the biggest decisions that we made in this past budget year, and I’m really pleased we got the support to get that done,” Robertson said.

The Legislature secured more funding from the city of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell University to increase contributions to the Community Housing Development Fund (CHDF), a decade-old community collaboration addressing the community’s affordable housing crisis. The fund will receive an additional $300,000 over the next two years, and the Legislature allocated $300,000 in Program Income Funds to create a new Contingent Fund for the CHDF to endorse more local proposals for low-income housing tax credits.

In the criminal justice sector, the Legislature voted unanimously to support Daniel Cornell’s appointment as the new Tompkins County’s director of Probation and Community Justice, and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick appointed Seth Peacock as Ithaca City Court judge. Scott Miller was also recently elected as County Court judge.

Make sure to pick up next week’s paper for a preview of what 2020 has in store for Tompkins County.


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