The North Country Regional Economic Develop-ment Council is seeking applications for projects to get state funding.
The council's co-chairs, Clarkson University Presi-dent Tony Collins and Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, outlined what they were looking for at a public forum at The Wild Center last week. It was one of seven forums, one in each of the seven-county North County region covered by the NCREDC, held over a two-week period at the end of June and beginning of July.
People who have projects that they want considered need to submit an application by July 16. If they think their project can rise to the level of a "priority project," they need to file a second application for that status by July 26.
Priority projects are ones that are transformative and meet certain criteria, like unlocking barriers to economic progress, capitalizing on unique aspects of the region, demonstrating a positive regional impact, or being a pilot project that can be replicated.
Projects that won the status of priority project in the last round of funding included $1.2 million in upgrades to Saranac Lake's Trudeau Institute and about $10 million to resurrect a Newton Falls paper mill and a connected rail line to transport goods in and out of the mill.
Another priority project, which Collins said was one of his favorites, was a mobile slaughterhouse for poultry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved slaughterhouse can move about the region on an eight-week cycle, because that's how long it takes chickens to grow from an egg to a slaughter-worthy age. That project takes advantage of local resources and fills a need, Collins said.
"There's enormous benefit to that kind of a project," he said. "The project doesn't have to be big to be transformative."
Most public projects won't be considered for priority projects.
In the last round of funding, the NCREDC won $103.2 million in state funding for 70 projects.
This year, each proposal will be evaluated against the economic plan and its goals and objectives.
"If it doesn't match the plan, it's not going to get a good score," Collins said.
Douglas outlined the NCREDC's plan, which includes key strategies like workforce development, retaining and expanding manufacturers, supporting tourism-related development, and using the area's higher educational facilities to spur business. It looks to use energy-efficient resources, maximize the region's international corridors to Canada, and support broadband infrastructure improvements.
He encouraged people at the forum to go to the council's website for resources like a copy of the plan, a video of a workshop on project applications and to submit comments.
Douglas told the Enterprise the council must submit an update of its strategic plan and new priority projects by early September. He said working groups will be responsible for developing revisions to the strategic plan, but they're still looking for input from people in the seven counties that the NCREDC covers.
Douglas said the council is in good shape.
"We're very much on track and I think we feel very comfortable about where we're at," he said.
Collins said the big focus this year is to check on the progress of priority projects identified in last year's planning process.
"If we funded just projects in the abstract, some might be successful and not successful - there's not a plan for that," he said. "The whole purpose was: identify projects (and) if they match the plan, then those were the ones that were accepted. Let's see how well they're doing up to this point. So it's an assessment year."
He told the crowd at The Wild Center in June he believes at least 50 percent of the 70 projects are now under way.
"We're really pushing, pushing, pushing," Collins said.
Douglas noted that because the North Country's plan was selected as one of four "best plans," the council will get to compete against the others for two, $25 million "bonus pots."
The scoring method for awarding additional funds will be different this time around, Douglas said. Last year, funds were awarded based on the quality of the plans; this year, funding will be doled out based on how well the council's have implemented them.
The council consists of about 30 people, and there are about 200 people behind them working on the plans, Collins told the crowd at the Wild Center.
Collins said what has impressed him most about working with the people involved in the council is that everyone - no matter their viewpoint - has a common feeling of what they want to see in the future of the North Country: Sustain the beauty of the region while growing the economy so it can be a place where their children can thrive economically.
In an interview with the Enterprise, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo believe this new, regional approach to economic development is working "extremely well."
"It's working better than any of us expected," Duffy said.
"We've worked very hard as a team to organize the process," he added. "We have a great team in place that pulls from a variety of state agencies. The North Country (council) is as good as any area of the state."
Duffy said the North Country council is beginning to hit its stride, and there's an "ease of operability" between its members.
"They're collaborating; it's a beautiful thing to watch," he said.