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CenterState CEO presented their economic development plan at Clarkson last month. Photo: Sarah Harris
CenterState CEO presented their economic development plan at Clarkson last month. Photo: Sarah Harris

Is this really a biz plan for the North Country?

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Last month Centerstate CEO, a Syracuse-based economic development group, released a plan for a region they call central New York. It stretches from the Finger Lakes to Massena and includes Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. It doesn't include the Adirondacks or the Champlain Valley.

The plan was prepared by the Brookings Institution and identifies ways in the region can compete on a global scale. But some critics argue that the plan doesn't represent the western half of what we call the North Country.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

The North Country Alliance, a group of northern New York business and economic development leaders, says St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Jefferson counties were largely left out of the plan.  

There’s only one mention of Fort Drum. And the phrase “North Country” is only mentioned 6 times in 56 pages.

James Wright is a member of the Alliance and executive director of the Development Authority of the North Country in Watertown.

"They had a focus on a manufacturing, technology, export-based premise when in fact the North Country is based on Fort Drum, agriculture, tourism and natural resources," Wright said. 

St. Lawrence, Lewis, and Jefferson counties are largely rural. They have high unemployment rates and are sparsely populated. It’s entirely not clear how they’ll benefit from being part of the region. And Wright says a plan focused on cities doesn’t make sense for northern New York.

"They started with the premise that the regional economy is metropolitan-based. And obviously we don’t share that view in the North Country."

It’s true that the plan doesn’t seem to recognize a lot of the North Country’s strengths.  

Here’s how Centerstate CEO spokesperson Kevin Schwab explains that.

The plan, he says, takes a macro view. It isn’t just focused on what the 12 county region does well. It highlights growing fields that could make the region a player in a global marketplace. 

"[Those fields] will allow us to best compete not just with neighboring communities or neighboring states, but with cities all around the world as we try to grow  our economy," 

Tony Collins is president of Clarkson University and co-chairs the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. He’s also on the board of Centerstate CEO.

Collins says the plan’s findings – that the region needs to modernize local governments, nurture innovation, and use data to make business decisions – are all relevant to the North Country.

Collins says the only other thing he would’ve liked to see in the Brookings plan is tourism.

"Tourism does need to be highlighted for our region. But even when we talk about adding value to agricultural products us in the North Country I think that can be innovative as well. So I just see the Brookings study was at a higher level of conversation and what we’re doing are examples of what they say is appropriate for our region."

And he says the North Country should stop quibbling and get to work.

"I’d rather get on with growing our economy than worry about the details of a report like that that I thought in general was an endorsement of what we’re doing."

The North Country Alliance says they look forward to collaborating more with Centerstate CEO and ensuring the North Country has a seat at the table.

Centerstate CEO says ultimately, they’re glad the alliance spoke up.

"This is not going to work for our entire regional unless the entire region is involved," said spokesperson Kevin Schwab. "The key is that we now see another organization looking to get involved and looking to collaborate on a broad regional scale."

Schwab says this type of collaboration is a sign of progress.  

"If you go back a few generations, there’s no question that the competition was whether Syracuse or Utica or Rochester or Watertown or Binghamton would get a new plant. What it is now is whether somewhere in our region would get an expansion or get a new plant, verses somewhere in a state far away or in a country even further away. "

The debate comes just as the North Country Regional Economic Development Council won extra money from the state for the third year in a row. 

Centerstate CEO, the North Country Alliance, and Tony Collins all say that the two plans compliment each other. One takes the macro view and looks at the region through a global lens. The other focuses on small business and the region’s unique assets.

A successful economy, they say, requires both.



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