Officials from the Malone, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake area chambers of commerce convened in Franklin County yesterday to unveil a series of initiatives aimed at bolstering the regional economy.
The meeting brought together representatives from local government, the Franklin County Board of Legislators, and even an aide from Congressman Bill Owens' office.
Hugh Hill is president of the Malone Chamber of Commerce. He says the economic downturn has forced local chambers to get creative in order to promote their member businesses.
That, Hill says, means working together toward a common goal.
"Together, our organizations represent nearly one thousand members - it's the largest business organization in the county," he said. "We've grown to understand that it's our duty, our obligation, and our pleasure to work for common goals by forming this and other regional partnerships, increasing our effectiveness and our reach."
Hill explains that the benefits of building regional partnerships led directly to the creation of the Franklin County Chamber Alliance.
According to Sylvie Nelson, executive director of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, the notion that there's strength in numbers rings true with this new coalition.
She says pooling resources and supporting neighboring chambers of commerce offers great advantages when it comes to stimulating the North Country economy.
"When we speak as one voice, it's loud," Nelson said. "When we speak as two voices, it's louder. When we speak with all three voices - that sends the message."
Nelson told a crowd of more than 30 people that the Franklin County Chamber Alliance will support a variety of economic initiatives in each community - that includes infrastructure rehabilitation in Tupper Lake, incubator projects for agriculture and artisan products in Malone, and even a convention center in Saranac Lake.
Generally speaking, Nelson says the focus will be on bringing dollars into Franklin County through investments in public works projects and tourism.
Conversation yesterday ranged from a dark skies initiative in Tupper Lake to the marketing of potatoes for vodka in the town of Brighton.
But one issue stood out in particular: a push to establish an occupancy tax in Franklin County, which is currently one of only two counties statewide that doesn't charge a tax on hotel rooms.
Backers of an occupancy tax - sometimes referred to as a bed tax - say the additional revenue would go directly toward marketing efforts in Franklin County.
Neighboring Essex County collects 3 percent of a room's total cost, which amounts to more than one million dollars annually. 95 percent of that money goes to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism for destination marketing.
Statewide, the bed tax is closer to 4.5 percent.
Nelson says the benefits of enacting an occupancy tax are real - but convincing lawmakers to approve a new tax could be a daunting task. She adds, though, that hotel owners have been supportive.
"They're the ones that will be burdened with taking that tax," Nelson said. "People need to understand that we're one of two counties in the state that doesn't collect this tax. These other counties take these funds and reinvest it in the tourism industry - you get clear results from that."
When the chamber alliance first proposed a bed tax earlier this month, Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun said it wasn't a top priority for county lawmakers.
But his colleague, Tim Lashomb, sang a different tune Wednesday.
"We see the struggles that we're facing right now," he said. "Tourism is probably one of our biggest assets that we have in Franklin County. We need to promote it more and we're more than willing to do it. The legislation has to be done first, and that won't come too quickly. I think you can be assured that what you're talking about, we're on the same page."
Hill from the Malone chamber says hospitality businesses in northern Franklin County understand the need for an occupancy tax.
"Most of our hospitality businesses understand the value of tourism and want to see more of it," he said. "Tourism is an easy sell."
Early figures estimate that Franklin County could draw about $300,000 in revenue through a bed tax, but Nelson stressed those numbers are not set in stone.