McKenna, as new REDC leader, wants North Country to work as ‘one unit’

ROOST chief McKenna, JCC President Stone succeed Douglas, Collins

The North Country Regional Economic Development Council announced Monday that it has appointed two new co-chairs: James McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism in Lake Placid, and Ty Stone, president of Jefferson Community College.

They replace Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, and Anthony Collins, president of Clarkson University. Those two men have co-chaired the North Country REDC since Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the councils eight years ago, giving regional leaders more control over state grants for economic development.

McKenna said it is a bit early to say what he wants to do differently on the council. He is in Siberia currently. But he said he will sit down with Stone and the council after he gets back to start strategizing.

“What I’m looking forward to most is getting the region to work as much as possible as sort of one unit,” McKenna said. “Meaning that understanding the needs of what’s happening in the Thousand Island and Watertown areas, in many cases, are the same challenges we have in the Adirondacks and Plattsburgh area.”

He said talking to a wide range of people in his region will help him be the most efficient co-chair her can be. As the CEO of ROOST, he is a voice for the tourism industry on the council.

He has been in Siberia since Feb. 27 to attend half of the 2019 Winter World University Games, which Lake Placid will host in 2023, talking with the organizing committee and learning how the games impact the region. In his former role on the REDC council, McKenna was a big supporter of applying for REDC money to update and build winter sports centers.

Tuesday morning — nighttime in Siberia — he saw a U.S.-Russian hockey game.

McKenna said though he is visiting a Russian province synonymous with cold, he was told it has been “unusually warm.”

“When we left the Adirondacks, it was like Siberia there,” McKenna said. “Watching the weather on a daily basis, it’s actually been warmer here than it has been back home our entire time.”

Stone said she has already spoken to McKenna to start setting an agenda. On Monday she traveled to Albany for a co-chair meeting.

“I’m excited to learn more,” she said. “Before I walk in with my own ideas, I want to get a real good sense of what has happened.”

Stone said she was involved in economic development projects in Dayton, Ohio, her hometown. As co-chair, she hopes to continue pursuing partnerships — including public-private and private-private — to strengthen the North Country.

Stone also brings an academic background in business and management. She holds a doctorate in organization and management from Capella University, a master’s degree in business administration from Trinity University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Columbia Union College. She is also veteran of the United States Air Force, having served as an air traffic controller.

Douglass spoke highly of McKenna, whom he recommended for the position.

“He has been involved from the start, has been a real leader in some of our key strategic efforts and, as a practical matter, has an organization that can back him up with staff and other support which is crucial as the co-chairs have provided much of the staff support for key REDC responsibilities,” Douglas wrote in an email.

Collins said Stone and McKenna were the “logical choices” for representing education, tourism and the different areas of the region.

Collins had already spent much longer in the position than he thought he would when he was appointed, as there was never a written term limit.

“This is the longest two years of my life,” he said. “It’s turned into eight years.”

The position is unpaid, but Collins said he appreciated being a part of the process, He said Clarkson University has a role in economic development in area and is a participant in the economy.

“I think the most satisfying, important work was developing the strategic plan,” Collins said. “I think the dollars allocated are not as important as helping the region understand its resources and identity and where to invest.”

Douglas said he thinks the biggest accomplishment of the REDC process is the collaboration between the region’s seven counties.

“The North Country Chamber has long believed that county by county parochialism was the region’s greatest impediment and, thankfully, Governor Cuomo believed in regionalism as well, putting us all together to work as a team or fail,” Douglas wrote.

Cuomo established the 10 statewide Regional Economic Development Councils in 2011 as public-private partnerships to plan the economic growth of the state on a local level. The councils have received $6.1 billion over the past eight years for investment into communities across the state.