Press-Republican

December 20, 2012

North Country wins $90.2 million for economic development

JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — It was another banner day for the North Country at the state’s Regional Economic Development Council Awards, as the region pulled in $90.2 million for a variety of projects.

The North Country plan, labeled a “top performer,” rated the fifth-highest total of the 10 regions that were given funding at Wednesday’s ceremony at Hart Theatre in Albany. In 2011, the initial year of the program, the North Country had the second-highest total with $103.2 million.

Although the funding is not as high as last year, officials were still pleased.

“To walk away with almost $200 million in two years — we’ll take it,” said Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.

He co-chairs the North Country Council with Anthony “Tony” Collins, Clarkson University president.

Among the projects that will receive funding in this round are International Paper in Ticonderoga, the Strand Theatre in downtown Plattsburgh and the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks and Wild Center in Tupper Lake.

International Paper will get $1.75 million to convert the existing power plant from heating oil to natural gas. Douglas said the funding should help the plant retain the 600 jobs there, plus about 600 more jobs associated with suppliers to the mill.

“This is a good example of how development is not just about bringing good jobs to an area but taking care of the jobs we have,” Douglas said.

“Energy costs are very high for them, and this was the best way to help them.”

‘A HUGE BOOST’

The Strand will receive $500,000 toward its renovations, which is one of the final construction funding pieces in the six-year-long project to transform the 1924-circa theater into a performing arts center.

“We really appreciate the fact that the council sees the Strand as an economic driver,” North Country Cultural Center for the Arts Board of Directors President Leigh Mundy said.

“Today, I am grinning.”

Mundy said the funding will help the project move closer to its grand opening date of fall next year.

“It’s still a process, and we have a lot to do, but this certainly is great news,” she said.

Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak, who served on the Development Council, said the funding is a huge boost for the project, which will help downtown.

“To achieve the award for the second year in a row is a true testament of not only the strength of the North Country projects, but also the efforts of the Regional Council and Chairmen Douglas and Collins,” Kasprzak said.

“The funding for the Strand Theatre will move this important downtown project closer to an anxiously awaited grand opening.”

ELEVATED WALKWAY

The Wild Center will get $1 million to construct an elevated walkway with interactive exhibits as a major added attraction to support tourism development in the region.

“The Wild Center has been a remarkable destination in the Adirondacks, and this will help create a whole new attraction and bring people to explore the Adirondacks,” Douglas said.

Paul Maroun, mayor of Tupper Lake and a Franklin County legislator, said the walkway will be a major attraction for families.

“This is going to be a beautiful site and families will want to come to Tupper Lake, which is good not only for Tupper Lake, but for the region,” Maroun, who serves on the Wild Center Board of Directors, said.

“We are trying to work on things that will make Tupper Lake a destination year round, and this will be a big step forward.”

ABOUT PERFORMANCE

The North Country Regional Development Council is made up of business, academic and government leaders who donated their time in putting together the proposal.

“We did very well, and the group of volunteers who work on our council are amazing,” said Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru), who attended the ceremony.

“The projects they picked are good projects, and as we’ve seen, they did a good job last year as well.”

The North Country competed this year against the three other top four finishers from last year. Along with Central New York, the region was named a top performer for this year, as well.

“Last year, it was more about the plan and how good that was, and this year, it was more about how well we performed, and we felt strongly about that,” Douglas said.

“Our efforts have been remarkably strong and they have been rewarded.”

The top region of the day was the Finger Lakes, which received $96.2 million.

‘BEAUTIFUL MOSAIC’

The Regional Economic Development Council program is designed to spur the economy of the state region by region. The idea, hatched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is to address the specific needs of a region and take advantage of each area’s resources and markets.

A total of $738 million was doled out Wednesday for 725 projects across the state.

“We had to do things in a new way,” Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said during the event, which was streamed live on the web. “As a former mayor of Rochester, I can attest that the old way did not work. Thanks to Gov. Cuomo, we now have a beautiful mosaic of regional economies across the state.”

Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), another council member who also attended the ceremony, said the collaboration of leaders has made the plan work.

“The shared vision, teamwork and implementation of a solid economic-development strategy once again pays off today with another top award,” she said.

Little also said the plan should help the state for years to come.

“Anything we can do to create jobs helps us keep more year-round residents and we need that,” she said.

Email Joe LoTemplio:  jlotemplio@pressrepublica

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NORTH COUNTRY'S SHARE

The full list of projects and funding can be found at www.northcountry openforbusiness.com