Legislature candidates zero in on economic development

·3 min read

Oct. 22—NEWFANE — Two town planning board members making their first runs for an elected office are competing to fill the 14th district seat on the Niagara County Legislature.

Sara Capen and Shawn Foti are both lifelong Niagara County residents.

During her childhood, Capen's father, Tom Beilein, was the Niagara County Sheriff and Capen recalls living in a "law enforcement background." Her sister Julie Caughel has been a Niagara County dispatcher for 20 years and Capen says she got that job by having the highest score on the civil service test.

"She wasn't hired by my dad," Capen declared.

Born in Olcott and today residing in Burt, Capen is a graduate of Barker Jr.-Sr. High School, Michigan State University and Canisius College, where she received a Master of Science in secondary education. A former social studies teacher in the Newfane, Barker and Holley school districts and a past adjunct professor at Niagara University's College of Hospitality, since 2011 she has been the executive director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.

Her opponent, Foti, is the project manager at Clark Rigging and Rental. Born and raised in Newfane, where he now resides with his wife and 3-year-old son, Foti is a graduate of Newfane High School, Niagara County Community College and Buffalo State College, where he received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He has been a member of Miller Hose Fire Company for more than 15 years.

Foti identifies himself as a strong proponent of the trades and vocational skills opportunities. In fact, he said, his "No. 1 agenda item in the campaign is the trades."

Niagara County is facing a lack of skilled workers, and Foti argues that neither schools nor the county have done enough to train the local workforce, either its youngest, newest members or those re-entering after a job loss. That's a shame, he suggests, because the trades can pave the way to a good life for the tradespeople.

"I believe the best thing someone can do that succeeds is help others succeed. It's to help people to that American Dream, to that more comfortable life," Foti said.

Capen said she's an advocate for the trades, too. Citing the availability of "strong vocational trade programs" in the county, through the high schools and Orleans/Niagara BOCES, she thinks the challenge lies in finding local places for graduates to put their skills and training to work.

"It's a very rewarding and satisfying career to work with your hands, but you also want to look at where are the jobs that come from that," she observed.

As the director of the Niagara Falls Heritage Area, Capen is engaged in tourism product development, grant writing, outreach, marketing, programming, regional economic development and education programs, all of which she thinks would come in handy if she was a county legislator.

For example, in the course of facilitating the Discover Niagara Shuttle, she said she learned a lot about the difficulties of transportation in Niagara County, especially in its rural areas. That's something she would look into and try to find solutions for as a legislator, she said.

"For any one that says 'she's just tourist' based,' I would argue the direct opposite," Capen said. "It's through that lens that I have completed projects that have benefited everyone, not just tourism."

The health of the local economy is a reflection of the health of multiple sectors, small business, vocations and tourism among them, Capen added.

"When you combine those altogether you are creating more opportunities to keep young people here working, serving the people who live here and creating a great place to live," she said. "That's what I'd like to do."

The 14th Legislative District encompasses the towns of Newfane and Somerset and a small portion of the town of Lockport. The district currently is represented by John Syracuse, who's running for the Newfane town supervisor's post in the Nov. 2 election.

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