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Chautauqua County is financially sound but still faces a string of challenges, according to County Executive Mark Thomas.

During his first State of the County address Wednesday night, Thomas called for a strategic plan to focus on economic development and proposed a restructuring of the county's economic-development programs to promote job growth.

"We must have a clear vision for the future of our core industries -- manufacturing, agriculture, services, and tourism," Thomas said.

"Working with the Legislature, we will put systems in place to effectively deliver services to regain the confidence of our businesspeople and firmly declare that Chautauqua County is truly open for business."

Thomas urged the Legislature to approve changes in the county charter, saying they would make government goal-oriented and performance-driven.

"Residents will be able to measure what the legislature sets as goals and what the executive does to reach those goals. These revisions will make us a national leader and innovator in reforming government," he said.

Facing up to the HIV crisis last fall, Thomas said the county needs to reach at-risk youth and let them know "they belong to us."

"I call upon all of us to foster the kinds of relationships with our young people which will include and welcome them as full participants and self-sustaining members of our society. These young people are our future. We hold no other choice," Thomas said.

The Legislature approved a change in the county bridge policy. The new plan uses any grant money received by any government to offset its share of the costs.

The issue surfaced last summer, when the Town of Arkwright got a state grant to repair three bridges, but after long negotiations the funds went to offset the town's share of just one span. That controversial Griswold Road bridge was reopened this week after the repairs were completed.

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