By JOE LoTEMPLIO
PLATTSBURGH — Creating jobs has to be a top priority for the 23rd Congressional District, says Democratic candidate William Owens.
Owens, a Plattsburgh attorney, has been touring businesses throughout the district this week to talk about job creation. He was at SolarNovar, a solar-energy company in Plattsburgh, on Tuesday.
"The main thing that people are talking about is job creation and putting people back to work," Owens said.
He is seeking the seat that has been vacated by incumbent Republican John McHugh, who was confirmed this month as the new secretary of the Army.
Republican Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava of Gouverneur in St. Lawrence County and Conservative candidate Douglas Hoffman, an accountant from Lake Placid, are also running.
On Tuesday, Gov. David A. Paterson officially set the special election for the seat for Tuesday, Nov. 3, which is the same day as the general election.
CLAIMS ROLE IN 2,000 JOBS
Owens has been touting his involvement in helping to create about 2,000 jobs over the years, which has attracted criticism from opponents.
He explained that he has been working with Canadian companies for years in trying to help recruit them to the area.
"We're talking about a 25-year history here, not just the last two or three years."
The result of his efforts, and the efforts of others, has been the establishment of about 200 Canadian firms in the region, employing an average of about eight to 10 workers each, he said, creating an annual economic impact of about $1.6 billion.
"These numbers speak for themselves," he said.
Mark L. Barie, owner of Crossborder Development Corp. in Rouses Point, a firm that helps attract businesses to the area, said Owens has been key in helping lure Canadian businesses to the area.
"Bill was in the trenches of economic development, and he was going with us to Canada 25 years ago before anybody else was doing it," Barie said.
Barie, a staunch Republican who used to work with Owens on Mountain Lake Public Television shows, said he would put together a team of specialists to travel to Canada to sell the region at business workshops. Owens would often accompany the team pro bono.
"Bill was a first-stringer on our teams," Barie said.
From there, Owens went on to work at the Plattsburgh Intermunicipal Development Corp., which later evolved into the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp.
Barie was the head of PARC from 1996 to 1998.
While Barie said he could not confirm the figure of 2,000 jobs created, he said Owens was on the front lines of economic development.
"In these things (job numbers), you usually find the truth is somewhere in the middle, but there is no doubt that Bill was instrumental in getting Canadian companies to this area," Barie said.
Scozzafava's campaign disputed Owens's boasts on job creation.
"Shamefully, Bill Owens continues to take credit for others' hard work and leadership," campaign spokesman Matthew Burns said.
Burns noted that in "Flying High Again," the 148-page book detailing PARC's history, Owens's name appears only once in a "throw-away line on page 71."
"Based on his track record, Owens will soon be taking credit for being mentioned in the table of contents, too," Burns said.
"It's about time for him to provide some hard evidence to back up his exaggerated claims or he'll risk falling into the same web of dishonesty as Doug Hoffman. As a wise man once said, 'Nothing ruins the truth like stretching it."
Owens said he was not splashed over the pages of the PARC book because he was working mostly behind the scenes.
"It was about getting the job done, and that's what I did. And that's what I'd do in Congress."
Hoffman's campaign spokesman Rob Ryan said his candidate has the best record when it comes to creating jobs in the district.
"The voters will see that Doug Hoffman is the person who has created jobs in the 23rd District through the private sector or his work with the Olympic Regional Development Authority and other entities," Ryan said.
"Bill Owens is going to have to explain his support for Nancy Pelosi (speaker of the house) and the Democratic Congress with their high taxes and spending increases. They are the real job-killers in this race."
E-mail Joe LoTemplio at: email@example.com