LEWISTON – Henry M. Sloma, a prominent player for decades in local politics and economic development, stepped away from the table Thursday.
Sloma, 72, resigned as chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, a week after he resigned as vice chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Board of Commissioners.
Sloma had served 18 years on the NFTA board and 10 years, most of the time as chairman, with the NCIDA. At the IDA’s March meeting, when he was re-elected chairman, Sloma said, “I’m going to guess this is my last year to do this.”
Sloma said in a telephone interview Thursday that he’s been having “numerous” health problems, which he said he didn’t want to discuss publicly. But he also has the feeling that he’s done his part and it’s time to step aside.
“There comes a time when you have to move on,” he said. “How do you know when it’s time? If you’re a baseball pitcher, it’s when you lose your fast ball. If you’re a golfer, it’s when you start slicing the ball. In my case, I’m getting signals it’s time.”
He added, “I don’t know how much life I have left, and I want to spend it doing things I enjoy.”
That would include spending more time with his wife, stepson and grandchildren. He admitted that his family “always came second to my work in the community. I’m not sure that was the best decision.”
Sloma, owner of the former Fairchild Manor Nursing Home in Lewiston for decades and a onetime Lewiston town councilman, saw his role on the NFTA board as sticking up for the interests of Niagara County in an Erie County-dominated agency. He said he saw his greatest accomplishment there as obtaining the expansion of Niagara Falls International Airport with regularly scheduled commercial flights.
“It was 10 years of bloody work. You have no idea how hard that was,” Sloma said.
“With his involvement, Niagara Falls International Airport has seen two record years of emplanements, and we appreciate his service,” said Kimberley A. Minkel, NFTA executive director.
At the IDA, Sloma said his biggest accomplishments were incentive packages for the coal-burning power plant in Somerset, thus keeping Niagara County’s largest property taxpayer in business, and for Greenpac Mill, a giant paper plant in Niagara Falls.
Niagara County Economic Development Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro said Sloma’s chief accomplishments were shoring up the IDA’s finances and making sure its tax-exemption policy “was as flexible as it could be to incentivize businesses as much as possible.”
“It’s not about the incentives,” Sloma said. “They’re out there creating good jobs so families across the region can live a good life.”
Regarding the IDA’s future, he said, “I don’t have any concern about the direction of the agency. We have a great board. The staff is phenomenal. They’re creative, and they’re not afraid to take on risk.”
Stephen F. Brady of National Grid, the board vice chairman, will take over unless the board wants to choose another chairman. It will be up to the County Legislature to fill Sloma’s vacant board seat.
Sloma reflected, “When I started in politics in my late 20s, I was definitely smarter than everybody else and quicker on my feet. I was like, ‘Get rid of the old people.’ Now I am the old people. There’s probably some younger people who want my seat, and that’s OK.”