Visioning summit evaluates economic development in area

Village, town, county and business leaders gather April 29 at Zero Dock Street restaurant in Carthage for the Tug Hill Commission’s River Area Council of Governments (RACOG) Economic Development Visioning Summit. Provided photo

CARTHAGE — To the owner of a Carthage insurance company, the Economic Development Visioning Summit for communities in the River Area Council of Governments, or RACOG, was an opportunity to learn more about economic development efforts and to be heard by decision makers. The only surprise at the meeting for him was that so few business owners seized the opportunity to attend.

“I was just disappointed because there were a lot of municipal officials there and they need to hear from the business community if we’re trying to attract talent or if we’re trying to grow our local economy,” said Adam Fuller, owner of Fuller Insurance. “They need to know what the business community wants.”

Four other businesses also had representatives at the event — the Natural Bridge KOA, CREG Systems of Watertown, Squishy’s Barbecue and C2AE Consulting.

The summit, held April 29 at Zero Dock Street restaurant in Carthage, featured speakers and presentations on topics including tourism, business development opportunities, business success stories and community development programs in the works to enhance economic development opportunities.

Lewis County presenters outlined grant initiatives, small business development opportunities and bigger-picture programs — from providing wireless broadband in unserved areas of the county, to efforts of municipalities to combine their buying power to push down electricity costs for residences and small businesses through “community choice aggregation” programs.

Jefferson County spokespeople detailed a recommendation for the village of Carthage to transform the property along the Black River with “expanded parking and dense waterfront development,” with Zero Dock Street as a key feature and architectural guidepost.

The building’s journey from a long-empty and deteriorated commercial entity into a stylish and popular restaurant owned by Scott C. and Shannon J. Sauer using $760,000 in state grant awards was also presented as a major success story.

Tug Hill Commission Executive Director Katie H. Malinowski outlined various projects that have comprised the Black River Initiative, including the creation of the Blueway Trail, the signed scenic byway and watershed management planning.

“Overall I think it went pretty well,” said RACOG circuit rider Mickey D. Dietrich.

Circuit Riders are employees of the Tug Hill Commission who attend town and village meetings, facilitate communication and coordinate programs for member municipalities.

While attendees gave Mr. Dietrich positive feedback about the presentations, it was the final brainstorming session examining the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the RACOG area that provided the most insight.

Partnerships — between municipalities on the village, town and county levels, businesses and organizations — were cited as a big strength in the area.

“That’s really what the summit was about,” Mr. Dietrich said. “I wanted it to be that we are all just working together for the common good of everybody by sharing ideas and networking. It helps to bring people together and get people focused on certain issues or projects moving forward to make that cooperation with each other.”

Partnerships were also listed as a weakness because as the number of entities involved in a project increases, the more complicated, cumbersome and slow the process can become, and usually, more changes in personnel happen without a “succession plan,” further complicating multi-municipal projects, Mr. Dietrich said of the brainstorming outcomes.

“With elected official turnover, it takes a lot of effort to get new people up to speed,” he said. “So it can take a long time to complete a project.”

A major weakness in the area was noted to be the difficulty getting younger people to either stay, return or relocate to the area, although Mr. Fuller suggested the emerging popularity of “remote work” as an opportunity to attract people to live the quiet north country life while they work anywhere they choose.

Fort Drum and the opportunities it creates was pinpointed as a “strength” by discussion participants.

Officials from the town and village of Lowville, the villages of Castorland, Deferiet, Carthage, West Carthage, the town of Croghan and the town of Wilna; organizations including Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, Lewis County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Railway Historical Society of Northern New York and the Adirondack North Country Association were also among the 35 attendees.

Mr. Dietrich said the next phase of the process will involve strategizing and planning to meet and overcome the challenges uncovered through the day’s discussions.

RACOG is one of five area councils on Tug Hill established by the Tug Hill Commission to help foster cooperation and leverage the resources of the small municipalities throughout the region.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment

zeitgeist

North country businesses would be wise to consider setting or resetting their company cultures for a post-COVID world. Throughout the U.S., the pandemic changed workplace cultures for the better (on all stratums of business), and they are more important than ever, today.

Local business owners who want to attract young people, and workers, in general, will establish work cultures that reflect the shift triggered by COVID. They will consider remote and hybrid work, fair and competitive pay, opportunities for leadership and advancement, in-house, collaborative, work projects, restorative vacation time, a 4-day or 32-hour work week, and, in general, policies, approaches and attitudes that enable workers to live productive, balanced, healthy, and happy lives.

Today, workers can find the culture shift triggered by COVID virtually anywhere. If they can't find it here, they won't come or stay.

Local businesses have to recalibrate for a post-COVID world despite, and because of, their challenges, difficulties and problems.

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