On a visit Jan. 4 to The Original Lincoln Logs headquarters in Chestertown, U.S. Rep. Bill Owens examines siding milled at the building materials firm. Larry Stephenson (right), owner of both Lincoln Logs and the Stephenson Lumber chain, gave Owens a tour of the facility.
Larry Stephenson, CEO of Lincoln Logs and Stephenson Lumber, sat in a conference room at his firms’ Chestertown headquarters, discussing with with U.S. Rep. Bill Owens the various challenges of conducting a business in the lower Adirondacks.
Owens was visiting Lincoln Logs, gathering information on the various concerns facing entrepreneurs in his 21st Congressional District.
After a tour of the Lincoln Logs mill and one of Stephenson’s three stores, Owens and Larry Stephenson talked about workforce readiness, foreign trade development, and the how the high cost of fuel inhibits product transportation.
“I have a lot of pride in keeping businesses active and employees at work in the Adirondacks,” Stephenson said. “It’s always been a goal of mine.”
Stephenson Lumber has three stores, including one in Speculator and the other in Indian Lake — both in Hamilton County. Stephenson owns and operates Riverside Truss as well as The Original Lincoln Logs — which designs and manufactures log homes and panelized construction materials for commercial and residential use. Riverside Truss builds roof truss systems for homes and businesses throughout the Northeast, Stephenson noted.
“I love bringing outside money into the Adirondacks,” he said, prompting Owens to say he understood how vital that was to the area’s rural economy.
Stephenson mentioned his concern that many qualified potential employees in Hamilton County were leaving the area with the belief they could get a better job elsewhere.
Asking about Internet access in the communities where Stephenson’s stores and mills are located, Owens noted that the growing work-at-home initiatives nationwide could potentially reverse that trend.
Stephenson responded that in Speculator, Internet access was limited, and might not be enhanced for at least several years.
Owens noted that in a visit earlier in the morning to the Darrin Freshwater Institute on Lake George, he had heard that lack of broadband was curtailing the transmission of data obtained in the Jefferson Project, a world-class research project into the lake’s ecosystem. The project is a joint venture of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and IBM.
Stephenson also noted that the fact that Indian Lake now has no supermarket, which is prompting local residents to travel many miles to buy groceries. The hamlet’s only supermarket closed down five years ago, accelerating the loss of population, he said.
Owens suggested that the community consider “crowd funding” over the Internet to raise donations to re-establish a local grocery store. He observed that Saranac Lake recently launched a general store through community funding.
Owens also proposed that communities in the Adirondacks recruit people in various professions suitable for working at home. Owens observed that the Federal government is rapidly developing its own remotely based workforce.
After the conference, Owens said many of the concerns raised in the meeting with Lincoln Logs and Stephenson Lumber officials were shared with many industries in other rural areas.
“We need to keep working on these issues,” he said. “It’s a matter of survival for communities in the Adirondacks.”
Noting that there were presently 3,000 unfilled jobs in his 21st Congressional District, Owens added that workforce training is an issue — workers have to upgrade their skills to meet the needs of the 21st Century jobs.
Operation of computer-controlled machine tools and conducting tasks with automated equipment are examples of good-paying jobs that are going unfilled, he said. High schools, trade schools and community colleges need to develop more programs preparing workers with high-technology skills, he said.
Owens, who is retiring from Congress in December, said he envisions himself in upcoming years continuing his efforts to boost regional economic development, probably in a volunteer role.
Just last week, Owens held a forum at SUNY Adirondack for business and industry executives to share ideas on boosting exports.