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Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in Potsdam Thursday
Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in Potsdam Thursday

Cuomo unveils regional economic council in Potsdam

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Governor Andrew Cuomo chose SUNY Potsdam as the place to unveil his North Country economic development council. The council will compete with other regions of the state for a $1 billion pot of grant money to create jobs.

Cuomo tapped Plattsburgh based economic developer Garry Douglas and Clarkson University president Tony Collins to chair the council. David Sommerstein reports.

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David Sommerstein
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You’d have thought Republican State Senator Betty Little was introducing a governor of her own party Thursday afternoon.

"Out in the public people are coming up to me and to my colleagues talking about, we’re changing the direction of New York, New York is on the right track, New York is doing the right things," Little said. "And there’s one reason that we’re on that right track and that reason is the leadership of Governor Cuomo."

Coming off a string of victories including a property tax cap, an on-time budget, and same-sex marriage in just six months, Democratic Governor Cuomo told a couple hundred North Country leaders and residents he’s now focused on turning around Upstate New York’s economy.

"The old expression is the best social program is a job. That’s exactly right. If we have jobs coming in and there’s a tax base, the supervisors can do what they have to do, the county executives can do what they have to do, the mayors can do what they have to do," Cuomo said. "But the exact opposite has been happening."

Cuomo blamed a top-down approach to previous schemes like Empire Zones. Instead, he said the ten regional councils will be “a 180 for New York”, developing unique job creation strategies for each region of the state.

"And I don’t know how to do that. And Albany shouldn’t be doing that. You know how to do that. It’s your communities, your businesses. You live here. You know how to actually forge a strategy that works," Cuomo said.

Cuomo tapped men from different regions within the North Country to lead that effort. Clarkson University President Tony Collins has been involved with Albany for years in leveraging university research to create marketable businesses. North Country Chamber of Commerce president Garry Douglas has helped build cross-border economic initiatives with Canada in Plattsburgh.

"I actually think that the North Country is going to prove itself to be one of if not the most prepared regions," Douglas said.

Garry Douglas said economic developers in the Fort Drum area, in St. Lawrence County, and in the Adirondacks and Champlain Valley have already identified sectors for growth.

"Strategic tourism is something we really need to have a fast and furious conversation about. Aerospace and transportation equipment in the Plattsburgh area, for example, the exciting things that Clarkson continues to work on here in the Potsdam area. There are real gems... Bio and health in the Saranac lake area with Trudeau, and the bio cluster that’s developing there," Douglas said.

18 other people were chosen to sit on the council, representing manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, eeducation, and the environment in the seven county region the council represents: Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Hamilton, Franklin, Essex, and Clinton counties.

These councils replace other economic development structures largely considered failures, considering Upstate New York’s high unemployment and poverty rates. Democratic Assemblywoman Addie Russell says it’s not just another layer of government. She says, for example, one uniform grant application will replace the current byzantine system that has long frustrated businesses.

"There’s all these different places they need to go to and hoops they need to jump through, and different contact people. By streamlining it and by the state taking the lead, it’s really going to be a lot easier for businesses to navigate the system," Russell said.

The council has until November to develop a comprehensive strategy to compete with other parts of the state for grant money.  That will require places that may have different priorities, say, Massena and Watertown and Tupper Lake and Elizabethtown, to work together.

Jeff Graham will sit on the council as mayor of Watertown.

"Fighting over a piece of grant money, that’s always going to occur and people are always going to advocate for their locality, and that’s what they should do. But it’s good sometimes to break down some of those barriers and hopefully that’s what’ll happen here," Graham.

David Sommerstein, North Country Public Radio, Potsdam.

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