The announcement drew cheers from the audience and sparked a celebration from Plattsburgh to Watertown. Business and political leaders say this money, and this vote of confidence from state officials, could help to spark an economic transformation. Brian Mann was in Albany and has our story.
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Video Highlights of the Award Ceremony
After months of work by volunteers across the North Country to develop a new economic plan, and weeks of tense waiting, yesterday’s announcement sparked a roar of applause.
“The North Country is a best plan award winner!”
The seven-county North Country region – with its tiny, rural population, received the second-largest grant-package in New York state.
Gary Douglas, head of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Regional Economic Development Council, was thrilled.
“How often does the North Country secure $103 million dollars for economic development projects? And by the way, nearly twice as much as was awarded to the city of New York!”
Under Douglas’s leadership, the North Country council pursued a strategy very different from other regions – staking its claim not on one big concept or project, but on a huge list of small entrepreneurial projects.
"We don't have the big bang," Douglas acknowledged. "We're not going to build a nanotechnology factory in Saranac lake that will employ six thousand people. But we do have a series of firecrackers and they'll pop and have a collective impact that will be transformational."
During yesterday’s presentation, the North Country was portrayed not as a remote, rural area on the margin’s of New York state’s economy, but as a region marked by high tech industry and innovation.
That narrative thrilled Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
"We saw Saranac Lake's name spread across the screen in front of the whole state of New York. A year ago we were on the verge of losing our biotech base with Trudeau Institute [considering relocating]. Now, a year later, with this award, and the establishment of the biotech cluster, the future us looking great."
This package of grants and state aid will go to dozens of nuts-and-bolts projects, everything from recruiting new researchers to Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake to housing for soldiers' families in Watertown.
Assemblywoman Addie Russell said housing and energy production were keys to her district.
"Those two areas in particular are extremely important and will help to launch our region into a whole new stratosphere."
One of the judges who ranked the North Country’s plan at the top of the statewide list is Bruce Katz, from the Brookings Institute.
He said another big element of the region’s package that caught the Cuomo administration’s eye was the emphasis on building and deepening relations with Canada.
"Not just as a trading partner, but as one seamless integrated economy. That sense of global perspective...just showed a sophistication of understanding about the potential for economic growth."
Clarkson President Tony Collins, who co-chaired the North County Economic Development Council, said the Canadian piece of the puzzle will be essential for building jobs.
"I think it's actually the most significant transformational aspect," he said.
This outcome is huge for the region in terms of actual dollars going to actual projects, but it’s also a huge morale boost, a vote of confidence for a part of New York state that has struggled to build a private sector economy.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey from Peru in Clinton County, said it’s also proof that the vast region can work together.
"We were all a little concerned. Can we pull Plattsburgh and Watertown and all the points together? I'm absolutely delighted."
Former St. Lawrence Assemblywoman Deede Scozzafava from Gouverneur, who now works for the Cuomo administration and sits on the Adirondack Park Agency commission, said this new economic development approach also gives locals far more control over their destiny.
"I'm a big believer in ground-up. It's the people living and working in the regions who have the best handle on how to move forward...it's a very good day for the North Country."
One complication to this victory is the fact that big chunks of the Adirondacks North Country – including Glens Falls, Warren and Washington County, and also the Herkimer County area around Old Forge, and Eagle Bay are located in different regions that didn’t win yesterday’s prize.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward from Willsbo says that’s proof that the Adirondacks as a whole needs to be seen as a single economic area.
"We are different, we are unique, we can play a huge role in economic development, but we must be recognized as being different," she said.
Economic development leaders say projects that did get funded in the North Country will begin to move forward within the next year.