Anthony “Tony” Collins, Cali Brooks, Terry Gach and James McKenna, members of the North Country Economic Development Council, listen to the community forum presentation in Elizabethtown Oct. 18.
While he described the task as “enormously challenging,” Garry Douglas said that the North Country Regional Economic Development Council was up to the task, as was the region.
“We are all involved in this challenge, and by that I mean everyone that is in this room,” Douglas, the co-chair of the NCEDC and Executive Director of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, told those in attendance at a community forum at Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School Oct. 18.
“We have been stuck in a one-size fits all approach to economic development in New York,” Douglas said. “The state is a series of fairly complex economic regions, each with different assets and different challenges. Now, the governor is turning upside down the way the state looks at economic development.”
The NCEDC is one of 10 economic development councils in the state charged with creating a plan to boost the economy in each region. For the NCEDC, Douglas said that the goal is to lead the economic renaissance of New York state’s small cities and rural communities.
Douglas presented the preliminary work that had been done by the council and also opened the floor to public comment on what needed to be done to help the North Country grow economically.
Douglas was joined at the community forum by NCEDC fellow co-chair Anthony “Tony” Collins, PhD., president of Clarkson University; Cali Brooks, executive director of Adirondack Community Trust; Terry Gach, vice president institutional advancement, Trudeau Institute; and James McKenna, executive director of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.
Douglas said that the council was working toward a Nov. 14 deadline to present a regional development plan to the state, at which time its plan would compete with nine others for $200 million in funding. Douglas said that while he felt good about the region’s chances to get funding, he did not see that as the main goal.
“I think too much is made of the figure,” Douglas said. “Success for us in this process is that we have created a stronger bond for collaboration in this seven-county region. We want the plan to express the opportunities, goals and challenges in this region. I do like our chances in the initial competition.”
Douglas did say that the state has told the council that populus or the amount of urban development in an area would not factor into the process, which he said was good for a region that has no major metro area.
“If it came down to that, we’d lose every time,” Douglas said. “There is no other region at all that looks like ours does and that is challenging because we have to start from scratch with a more diverse, complex, all-encompassing plan.”
Douglas said that small businesses were the root of job creation for the North Country region, and that community development also played a role in their plan.
“You can only have a strong economy if you have a strong community,” Douglas said.
Douglas also said the Adirondack Park region is a key component of any development plan for the NCEDC.
“It will very much be a part of the process not only in the beginning but as we continue down the road,” Douglas said.
The NCEDC has held a number of community forums thus far, and will complete their mission of visiting every county within the region next week.
“The input that we have received has been informative, helpful and appreciated,” Douglas said. “All of the input has been taken back to the council, has been used and will continue to be used as we continue to draft and finalize this plan.”