JOINING FORCES - Morehouse Town Supervisor Bill Farber heads the Adirondack Park subcommittee of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. Their Oct. 19 Indian Lake forum was among the best-attended, council members said.
Closing in on their submission deadline, members of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council said networking, not dollar numbers, is their focus so far during an Oct. 19 public forum at the Indian Lake Theater.
One of 10 similar councils, the group is tasked with identifying, building and soliciting project proposals that can have a continuing economic impact in their regions.
Much media attention has focused on competition over the $200 million to be awarded in this round of state funding, but long-term a lot more money is at stake, said Garry Douglas, council co-chair and president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
Another $800 million will be distributed over the life cycle of the project, so leaders of North Country council are thinking long-term.
The relationship building that’s happening now is building a strong foundation to work from for this funding round and those following, said Douglas.
What about matchmaking, asked Jon Voorhees of Indian Lake. There are significant, untapped hydroelectric opportunities at the Indian Lake and Abanakee dams, he said, suggesting the council connect local interests and power developers to see what options exist.
“Definitely,” Douglas answered. This networking is a benefit of the councils that shouldn’t be overlooked or undervalued, he said.
Morehouse Town Supervisor and Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber chairs a subcommittee of the council focused on the Adirondack park. The park-centric committee was insisted upon by the council, and agreed to by the governor. The turnout at Indian Lake, along with the turnout at an earlier meeting in Tupper Lake, marked the high points of attendance for the council chairs' tour, said Tony Collins, council co-chair and president of Clarkson University.
Collins said the sense of community in Indian Lake is commendable and refreshing. In small towns closer to bigger cities like Potsdam and Plattsburgh, people are seeking help rather than trying to help the council, he said.
George Virgil of Indian Lake reminded the audience of what they can do when they pull together. A bus garage that would have cost $500,000 was built for only $140,000 with cooperation from the school and town. A ski building was erected for $100,000.
The people of the town can keep succeeding as long as they keep working together, Virgil said.
Web and cell service
That’s not to say Indian Lake couldn't use help. Broadband internet service was a top talk item from the gallery, with Jack Valentine of Indian Lake, Ann Melious from the Hamilton County Industrial Development Agency and David Cole of North Creek all emphasizing the need for broadband in the park.
“You're not going to get recently-graduated college couples up here with their iPads and iPhones,” Farber said.
Access to broadband increases quality of life, opening up business and education options and accommodating second homeowners who want to work from the Adirondacks during the warm season, Farber said.
Bill Murphy stood up from the audience and said telecommuting should be a priority of the county Industrial Development Agencies in the park. The sooner they get started, the better, he said, because if there's a workforce or education issue it can be addressed.
Cell service is another communications’ weak spot that needs quick action, said Kevin Elkin from Indian Lake.
Elkin used to work for the county as a drug and alcohol prevention coordinator, and works now running a tree service.
His job is mostly done solo. When he's alone with a chain saw and no cell reception, he worries about how fast a slip with the power tool could turn deadly.
He does have a radio, but if he debilitates himself and can't get to it after an injury, the safety net of a cell phone in his pocket is non-existent.
“I'm not a second-class citizen, and I shouldn't be treated like one because I live in the central Adirondacks,” Elkin said.
By insisting on an Adirondack Park workgroup, the council is trying to address that concern.
Farber leads the park subcommittee, and said the development council was already aware of and addressing park-specific issues, like tourism and wood products.
Instead of making the council more aware of the problems park economies face, the council has focused on park-specific projects, like a recreational plan to develop tourism opportunities in the park.
Hurdles to economic development in the park are also being reviewed. The Adirondack Park Agency has the same application for commercial projects whether they’re large or small, Farber said. A resort development may not have trouble with the forms, but a small craft business likely would, he said. Businesses need more specific options that consider the size of the proposed operation, Farber said.
The focus isn't on marketing when considering projects, Farber said. What the council and state are looking for is development that expands opportunities or creates new ones, he said. Local economic options strengthen each other, he said.