NCPR's Joanna Richards attended a public forum by the council in Watertown last night and has this report.
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Officials from the regional council gave updates on projects funded last year and discussed the regional five-year strategic plan for economic development in the north country. The plan was created as part of this new state funding process. They also called for public input on how that plan might be tweaked.
According to Council Co-chairman Garry Douglas, the strategic plan is important because individual projects are judged against it for funding. He said, "And then that strategy now is the touchstone for anybody in the region basically applying for any kind of state grant funds. They need to show how their project relates to the plan and that somehow it's consistent with the plan. That's how they will best compete for state dollars."
How to best compete for state dollars was on the minds of several people who showed up for the forum. Bill Alexander, from Harrisville in Lewis County, said, "What I want to do is put in solar in at least three of the towns to be able to lower their overall electric bills."
Alexander has been installing residential solar panels for seven or eight years. Now he has an idea that he thinks might merit state investment. He says this kind of work could create jobs and help train a new green-energy workforce in the region. He added that he learned valuable information by attending this meeting and said, "I'm gonna try to meet the July 16 deadline."
Robert Campany, with the municipal consulting firm Fourth Coast, also attended. His company is working with the towns of Orleans and Alexandria on a commercial development project that would span the towns' shared border near the Thousand Islands Bridge. The groundwater in that area is contaminated, so Campany wants to see about state funding help for a public drinking water system that could support the development. He said, "It's a project that's real important to both towns, and actually, the whole county, because it could be a tremendous generator of sales tax revenue for Jefferson County, certainly, not to mention important jobs."
Campany says after the forum he was able to pitch his company's idea and get some useful feedback about how to prepare their application. Council members said projects that create jobs, have a widespread impact and support private development are more likely to be looked on favorably by the state. That's something that the advocates for the project say they will keep in mind as they prepare their application.
The council is collecting public input on the five-year strategic plan for the next several months. To learn more about the plan and to comment, go to www.northcountryopenforbusiness.com.