Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST)/Lake Placid CVB Executive Director Jim McKenna, left, and ROOST Board of Directors 2nd Vice Chairman Mike Beglin talk to members of the Saranac Lake Local Development Corporation Monday, Aug. 13.
Village officials used their Aug. 13 meeting of the Saranac Lake Local Development Corporation (LDC) as a platform to change the direction of economic development here.
While some communities rely on town, county or chamber of commerce resources to spearhead economic development and tourism efforts, the village of Saranac Lake is taking the lead instead. It’s already had success with grant writing through the Community Development Office for years, and the fairly new LDC is poised to create partnerships to bring more new business to town.
“The LDC should be the centerpiece of economic and community development in Saranac Lake,” said Trustee Paul Van Cott.
The LDC directors invited a few guests to the Harrietstown Town Hall auditorium Aug. 13 to talk about their organizations, thereby gathering information on the current economic development and tourism assets at the village’s disposal. Speakers included Community Development Director Jeremy Evans, Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President Craig Stevens, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST)/Lake Placid CVB Executive Director Jim McKenna and ROOST Board of Directors 2nd Vice Chairman Mike Beglin.
One of the goals of the discussion, as outlined by Mayor Clyde Rabideau, is to maximize the collective economic development impact by using their resources as effectively as possible.
“I want to take advantage of the expertise that you have with the existing resources with the different organizations, and we want to minimize the overhead that we each contribute,” Rabideau told the speakers. “Again, we want to eliminate the duplication of efforts.”
The LDC’s mission is to relieve and reduce unemployment; promote and provide additional and maximum employment; improve and maintain job opportunities; attract new industry; retain existing industries; and lessen the burdens of government. Formed in 2010, it was designed to develop loan programs, initiatives and outreach efforts to support the village’s economic development strategy.
The LDC is managed by a board of directors, including the mayor, trustees and community members. But Village Board members would like to see more input from the community.
“We need to bring on more local leaders, people who want to get things done,” Van Cott said.
Evans said he I thinks there’s definitely some duplication in economic development and tourism services in the village. He also outlined a few important aspects of community development facilitated by his office.
“From the community development standpoint, I think it shouldn’t be underestimated how important the village’s role is in providing infrastructure improvements to the community,” Evans said, adding that planning/zoning, establishing a “walkable” community, economic development partnerships and grant writing are also important jobs of the village.
LCD member Keith Wells said that accessibility for physically challenged people should be added to that list when thinking about infrastructure.
The Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce has undergone some major changes recently. The executive director — Sylvie Nelson — resigned in the spring, and board members held a public forum to discuss the Chamber’s future and the direction it should be taking. It is currently without an executive director.
“The Chamber is finding its way,” Stevens said. “We have a very engaged board. We’re meeting twice a month at this point and are bringing groups together. We have acknowledged a lot of our weaknesses in the past and focus on what we have best and what are strengths are.”
Stevens said the Chamber’s main strength is its member volume and the ability to get the word out through its membership, which is currently around 300. He also pointed to its new website as valuable part of membership.
Mayor Rabideau asked Stevens what his members are asking the chamber to do for them.
“They want assistance in promoting their business,” Stevens said.
They want workshops, promotion, marketing and a good website. So the Chamber is focusing on educational opportunities to members and member services, not special events as it had in the past.
Mayor Rabideau asked ROOST’s McKenna to the LDC meeting to pick his brain, as he is one of the most highly regarded tourism experts in the Adirondack Park.
“Potential visitors, they don’t necessarily see boundaries,” McKenna said. “They’re more interested in accomplishing what they want to accomplish, whether it be activities or dining or lodging or whatever they want to do. That’s really the criteria that they look at.”
Traditionally, communities competed against each other to attract visitors, but the tourism industry has changed, according to McKenna.
“When you look at communities like we have here in our Tri-Lakes here, it’s not really about competing with each other,” McKenna said. “It’s about the Adirondacks versus other areas. From that point of view, I think we’re better off the more we work together on all the programs and projects.”
Marketing is only part of the equation. Communities have to do more than rely on advertising. People will gravitate to where the amenities and facilities are, he said.
“The whole region has great outdoor activities, but it’s really the people comforts that we have to concentrate on more and more,” McKenna said.
And having those amenities will get people talking.
“Ending up with good word of mouth and good buzz is really what it’s about,” McKenna said.
Although tourism officials in Franklin County are saying that they have a great opportunity to increase revenue through occupancy taxes, such as Essex County does, McKenna has his doubts.
“I’m not sure about that,” McKenna said. “I’m not really sure those numbers are as great as people are thinking they are ... I’ve done sort of a little inventory, and I’m not sure.”
Trustee Tom Catillaz wanted to get more constructive criticism from McKenna.
“It almost sounded like you know things that we’re doing wrong,” Catillaz said. “Are you willing to share those with us?”
It’s not necessarily that Saranac Lake is doing something wrong, McKenna said.
“You have to have some infrastructure in place to jump into the marketplace a little more fully than Saranac Lake is,” McKenna said. “To critique what’s being done. I don’t think anything’s being done.”
With that, the mayor thanked his guests and said this is only the beginning of the economic development and tourism dialogue and looked forward to working with them in the future.