WBFO's Press Pass went on the road this week to Genesee County for a conversation with Howard Owens of The Batavian.com, a six-year-old community news site whose success has drawn national attention.
With stories ranging from police scanner chatter to extended dialog with elected Washington officials, the Batavian sparks heavy web traffic and ample, often intense, reader commentary.
In a topic familiar to Erie County residents, controversial tax incentives have been dangled to lure startup business to Genesee County. A high-profile example is how public dollars were used to jump start the yogurt industry in Batavia.
"The people involved in those projects, the companies, spoke significantly about the tax incentives," Owens explained
"And to hear both sides tell the stories it was critical for both of those companies (yogurt makers Muller-Quaker and Alpina).
The plants have brought new jobs to the community, but Owens says it may be premature to call the project a complete success.
"What you don't see yet is necessarily lot of (commercial) development out that way," Owens said.
"We're in a phase where we're evaluating and waiting to see is this going to be everything that was promised."
Like most Upstate cities, Batavia once enjoyed a robust manufacturing economy. Now much of that industrial infrastructure sits empty. Owens, who re-located to the area six years ago, believes there is more to the Batavia picture.
"Being a big city boy, I'm originally from San Diego, when I came out to Batavia, here's, to me, this really vibrant small town with lots of locally-owned businesses here," Owens said.
"There's a lot of very engaged people here because of that and that's the value I think we need to hold onto and promote."