When economies are crumbling across our ocean and across the nation, we are triply blessed.
Partly because of the resilient nature of North Country folk, and partly because of the careful and diligent nature of commerce in Canada, we have remained much less affected by the national and global downturn as have other regions. Our unemployment rate is only a couple of points higher than normal, and we have not nearly the degree of housing foreclosures. New businesses continue to open, only a few close, and farmers are hanging on. Our steadfastness and deep roots have served us well.
This area is also one of great beauty and diversity. I arrived here almost seven years ago from a land that I thought had great beauty and diversity. My adopted home reminds me much of Alaska, in the ruggedness of the land, the tolerance and kindness of the people, and the appreciation for just how lucky we are to live where we do.
However, while North Country residents can be proud of our past, and grateful for our present, we can also be excited about our future. Certainly, others are.
On Thursday, the North Country was ordained to receive one of the largest economic development awards ever granted any region in New York State. In fact, this little "economic engine that could" was named a "best plan" among all regions in the state.
Our North Country Regional Economic Development Council prevailed because it avoided politics and made a simple case. For every one dollar invested by state taxpayers, the private sector anted up another six dollars in the remaking of a sustainable economy.
Anyone reading the original report recognized it was a first-rate effort. I would hope it competed against other first-rate efforts, and I am glad it rose to the top. I have lamented that it needed to make the simplest of cases, while others engaged in pomp and politics. After all, in life you dazzle 'em with brilliance or baffle them with something else. The North Country Regional Economic Development Council clearly took the substance-over-style approach in their presentation, and that made all the difference. After all, when there is so much potential and so much talent in this region, why not play to our strengths?
I hope you have had a chance to look at their report. If not, you can find it at http://nyworks.ny.gov/content/north-country.
The presentation outlines various projects that will benefit a region large in geography but small in population. It had something for everybody, not because it pandered to every interest, but because it teased the best out of every corner. And, given our small population, it also means a lot for everybody.
Most relevant is an investment in Bombardier, matched by more private money, so that they can remain competitive and expand in an increasingly competitive space.
It allows industries to compete through rail-line improvements, and it allows the Trudeau Institute to innovate with the best and brightest the world has to offer.
And, it allows us to take some pride in our own region, and perhaps to see ourselves through the tourist eyes that undoubtedly influence not those already here but those who might come.
For instance, the plan invests in the Strand Theater. The investment is modest, at $400,000, but it allows the Strand to attract a multiple more from foundations and from you and me. This is a classic example of a project's ability to use seed money from the state not to fund operations but to leverage many more dollars from others who are able to share a vision. And, it will allow us to shine in the tourist eyes of those young professionals and families we want to move here, or our children whom we hope return.
Mostly, the plan invests in our sustainability. It recognizes that people flow to where jobs are, vision is, and positiveness prevails. We consistently see that here. It is rewarding when others do, too.
Certainly, the plan's success owes a lot to Garry Douglas, our brilliant regional Chamber of Commerce leader, and to his council co-chair, President Tony Collins of Clarkson University. Both leaders understand that a simple and unrelentingly positive message allows us, in Garry's words, to "punch above our weight" when others are tripping over their shoelaces. They prove that you don't have to be big, powerful and well-connected to be world class. The North Country thanks and applauds you.
Colin Read chairs the Economics and Finance Department at SUNY Plattsburgh. Continue the conversation at www.pressrepublican.com/0216_read.