PLATTSBURGH — After a decade of living and working in Manhattan, Joshua Kretser returned to the North Country as a young entrepreneur and started P.O.D. Studio.
For him, it was refreshing and helpful to come home to family, friends and a business community.
“I think we have a lot going for us, being able to attract and maintain young professionals,” Kretser said.
Another young professional who left and came back to the area is Sarah Stansbury, an associate broker at Tahy Real Estate Group.
“I think we start to take for grated the beauty of the surrounding lakes and mountains until we come back,” she said.
Erin McGill, a first-grade teacher at Bailey Avenue Elementary School, grew up in Plattsburgh but left to start her teaching career at a reading institute in California and Texas. She moved back for a teaching position at Bailey Avenue Elementary.
McGill feels a new business prospective is needed in order to attract younger people to the area.
“People who will stay here is key,” she said. “A lot of younger people are leaving the area because there just aren’t jobs.”
Increasing job availability in local communities is important, according to Tim McCormick, an accountant at McCormick & Deon, because for many people, finding that first job can be a challenge.
“It’s difficult for a lot of people to find work in the North Country,” he said. “However, it’s not impossible.”
Many young professionals also experience difficulty finding careers associated with their education level, said Mark Tiffer, the City of Plattsburgh Ward 2 councilor.
“Our goal should be attracting a large employer with careers and sustaining salaries,” he said.
While Tiffer is grateful for the businesses that do populate the area, he said, “We have to diversify if we’re going to stay relevant, thrive and grow.”
A more open-minded attitude and willingness to accept new ideas is also needed, according to Ashley Cousens, coordinator for the Center for Community and Workforce Development at Clinton Community College.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get people on board for things that would potentially make Plattsburgh a better place,” she said.
Tiffer agrees that there is a negative perception of the area.
“I don’t know if it’s from things that happened in the past, but there is a negativity that doesn’t let our community be everything it could be,” he said. “There is a lot of potential for growth here, but too many people are shortsighted, and not enough people ... have a vision or a goal or the optimism to push the community forward.”
“There are people who have been here that are outspoken to the negative,” Steve Peters, superintendent of recreation for the City of Plattsburgh said. “We are a community that for 200 years had a solid military identity, and now we don’t have that. We’re a community in flux that’s searching for identity.”
He said he hopes those who are apathetic about change will realize that this community needs it to survive.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Tiffer and Peters agree that young professionals with families are attracted to communities that offer opportunities for canoeing, climbing and cycling. Those people bring entrepreneurial ideas and innovation, and that’s what the community is lacking, Tiffer said.
“If we can attract these people and make them want to come to Plattsburgh, then we’re doing the right thing.” Tiffer said.
“My generation is more interested in quality over quantity,” Peters added. “Enjoying what they do is more important than getting paid for what they do. These generations will move anywhere that they can to enjoy what they are doing as opposed to just climbing an employment ladder.
“A community that focuses on quality of life rather than just survival puts itself in a stronger position to recruit new businesses and families.”
“We have to be vision-oriented for us to attract businesses that are going to push this community forward,” Tiffer said.
One of the ways he suggests doing this is by continuing to link recreation and amenities with the Saranac River Trail.
“There’s a wealth of evidence out there that shows a comprehensive trail system through a community can bring about a huge sense of vibrancy,” Peters said, adding that the Saranac River Trail aims to bring that to Plattsburgh and the surrounding area.
Cousens is also working on the project by building a universally accessible tree house along the trail. She is hoping construction will start by the end of the year.
Kretser thinks an increase in arts and cultural opportunities for North Country residents is also something young professionals are working toward in the community.
“I think we’re on the cusp of that with the opening of the Strand Theatre this summer,” said Kretser, who also chairs the Arts Task Force in Clinton County for the Partnership for Community Development.
Many young professionals in the area agree that building recreational activities is key to maintaining their presence here. One such project is the Plattsburgh Roller Derby.
McGill, who is also the Roller Derby president, and a group of young women created the grassroots, all-female sports team in the spring of 2010.
“Because of the community and all of their support, we’ve grown and are able to give back to the community by supporting other community groups,” McGill said.
McCormick, who is also past president of the Adirondack Young Professionals, a civic group that provides a way for young professionals to gather, network and give back to the community, works with the Local Development Corporation. The corporation helps start and expand businesses in the Town of Plattsburgh by giving low-interest-rate loans to businesses that will hire a number of employees.
Cousens said many of these young professionals’ projects aim to attract people and bring more businesses.
“I think what we really need to see is a grassroots effort,” she said. “My project is a tiny slice of the pie, the Strand Theatre is a bigger slice.
“If more people can get involved and pick a project they really want to see get done, then we’re all working toward the same goal.”
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CELEBRATING THE REGION
Local young professionals share why they love the North Country:
Tim McCormick, accountant at McCormick & Deon: "I love Plattsburgh because it's small enough here where it's easy to get involved and to give back to the North Country."
Ashley Cousens, coordinator for the Center for Community and Workforce Development at Clinton Community College: "I love living here because there is so much to do in every season. I like that it's a small community with just enough anonymity and familiarity.
Joe Kovacs, owner of Smooth Moves: "I was born and raised here, so I guess everything."
Ryan Cogswell, co-owner of Body Art Tattoo: "I like that it's very easy going, and it's not an expensive place to live. It allows people to put their money into hobbies and things they enjoy."
Joshua Kretser, owner of P.O.D. Studio: "Being a native of the North Country, I've always enjoyed outdoor recreational opportunities -- whether it was sailing on Lake Champlain or skiing in the Adirondack mountains. The thing I'm most excited about is possibilities for the future."
Mark Tiffer, city councilor for Ward 2: "It's not a hustle and bustle. It's more laid back, and you're able to enjoy nature and the lake."
David Allen, owner of Latitude 44 Bistro: "It's a great place to live. You don't have to worry about locking your doors, you know your neighbors, and it's a great community. It's a safe area to raise a family."
Erin McGill, first-grade teacher at Bailey Avenue Elementary: "Having a sense of community and people who actually know me. I love it. I love the people. I love what the North Country has to offer and the different things I can do here."
Sarah Stansbury, associate broker at Tahy Real Estate Group: "I love the sense of family and community we have here in the North Country, and knowing your neighbors."
Steve Peters, superintendent of recreation for the City of Plattsburgh: "I love the geography more than anything. Using the lakes, the rivers, being close to Montreal, the Adirondack Mountains and Burlington across the lake."