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New Economic Structure for the Park?

November 25, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Recently, there was a conference on “Strengthening the APA” and there have been numerous gatherings on climate change and other critical environmental issues facing the Adirondack Park.

Often these gatherings look at big picture items. Acid rain and climate change are bigger issues of which the Park is an unfortunate beneficiary. In terms of regulation, it is easy to think about the Adirondack Park Agency as they are a key state body that is responsible for this.

On the economic side there is the Common Ground Alliance, Local Government Days, and numerous regional and local conferences for example on “sustainable communities.”

Often though, the bricks and mortar of community development is sponsored by local groups such as community development offices, IDA’s or volunteer efforts.

On the other hand, do economic development issues in the Park have a formal place to go?

At least with the APA, there is a structure that one can talk about. You can discuss how they review projects and what possibly needs to be changed.

Who’s Business?

You could say that the APA is in the “business” of environmental regulation and stewardship. It is possible to look at concrete things like their mission, products and services. You can attempt to quantify success, impacts, and even possibly a “rate of return.”

Is there a formal Adirondack Park structure to go to when discussing community development issues of the region? Somewhere where we can look at concrete things like their mission, impacts and “return on investment” to determine how they are preforming?

We hear a lot of about changes on the environmental side.

Do we need to be reminded about how our economy has changed since the 70’s when the APA came into existence not only in the Park, but nationally and globally?

What analogous Park-wide system do we have to help communities with the “new economy”?

Economic Changes

The 1970’s was a time when corporate America was providing most of the jobs. Manufacturing was a huge factor both nationally and to an extent in the Park.

Who could have projected back then that U.S. and subsequently Park “industrial development” would decline? Who thought that the bi-polar military and economic might of the U.S. and the Soviet Union would be challenged by China, India and others into a more multilateral world? Who would have known that the new economic savior to our economy would be you and me – small businesses that often employ less than 6 people?

Who could have foretold a complete revolution in how a community gets jobs?

New Approaches

By and large “industrial recruitment” was not the success folks believed it could be.

Communities now don’t necessarily want to go out and “recruit” big business. Perhaps either because they know how difficult it is to compete with larger areas outside the Park or they may think it may impact their quality of life.

The new movement, that we all know now, is building from within, growing businesses that are already here: sustainability, micro-enterprise development and home-based businesses that use technology is now the rage.

Yes, the world economy and the way our Adirondack communities look at jobs sure have changed a lot since the 70’s.

Adirondack Branding

And where do you go for help with this? While, new exciting opportunities exist for the Adirondack Park, it is also not an easy one. For a community to be effective in growing jobs you often need a dedicated effort that has a snappy web site, active in social media, an aggressive marketing campaign and a coordinated and thorough follow-up system.

Many Adirondack communities cannot afford this.

Just as important, is there even an Adirondack Park "open for business" “branding” effort such as we see on the tourism side?

What were some of the key reasons that the Saranac Lake area and now Hamilton County went with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism? Is it the fact that the technical infrastructure and know-how alone one needs today to market to today’s traveler is immense? Is it because interactive web sites, a constant barrage of social media information, tracking and instant response to inquiries are just a few things small Adirondack communities find hard to do?

Or is there is another reason: the potential for these communities to work together on the same branding message?

It will be interesting to see how ROOST performs its new task that emphasizes the word “regional” in its name.

A Park Structure?

We wouldn’t even be able to talk about a blossoming Adirondack Park tourism effort (along with the Adirondack Regional Tourism office) if there were not structures in place. A structure that communities involved with ROOST can work with, look at products, grade the services and determine their “return on investment.”

Where do we go on the Adirondack Park economic development front? What Park-wide mechanism do we have than can work with communities on branding, offer technical assistance to communities to who want to go after the “new economy”?

Community efforts are often stymied on how to market themselves; they often lack basic “we are open for business” preparedness strategies. Do they need help in this new era of economic opportunity?

Don’t get me wrong, this quilt of communities working with a slew of partners including regional and state entities has done a lot. The partnerships are strong.

But will it continue to be enough to steer our struggling Adirondack Park communities forward? Would the new grass-roots development effort in Tupper Lake have a greater chance for success if a Park economic structure existed? Could we have avoided the on-going conflict with the rail corridor if there was a system in place sanctioned by the state and local communities?

Greater Effort?

Perhaps this possibility is already in place with existing efforts and organizations. Beefing up the APA’s Economic Unit has been discussed numerous times and there are other key regional organizations. Perhaps it is just as simple as ensuring the Park’s economy is on the table and the recognition that our economy has also changed.

I believe we all agree that our unique sense of place is made up of our nature and people. If that is the case do we have an opportunity to put in place a greater vision, one that potentially fulfills the potential of the Adirondack Park as the special place it is – the true experiment of man and nature?

To do this optimally, should we consider a resourced and sanctioned Park-wide economic structure?


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