The Sun Community News
July 26, 2018
By: PETE DEMOLA
PLATTSBURGH | Improved cell phone coverage, new waste water treatment systems, job training programs and services to aid businesses as their aging owners transition out of the workforce are among the projects that will be funded through the latest round of Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) grants.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) announced the allocation of $1.46 million in funding for five projects across the North Country on Thursday.
“Infrastructure is critical to creating jobs and increasing economic opportunity, and I applaud the NBRC for their announcement,” Stefanik said in a statement.
The Town of Crown Point received $500,000 for their proposed new wastewater treatment facility.
The current system is antiquated and under a state Department of Environmental Conservation consent order.
When repairs are necessary, the town must custom-order parts because the company that designed the system has gone out of business.
“In order to meet demands, we need to build a totally new wastewater treatment plant,” said Crown Point Supervisor Charles Harrington. “We felt it would be in our best interests to build a new wastewater plant that is of a modern type.”
The proposed plant will be quiet, environmentally-friendly and have “minimal odors,” Harrington said.
The total cost is projected at $5.9 million.
While user fees will cover some of the costs, the town will also seek interest-free loans from the Environmental Facilities Corporation to keep costs low for users.
Without additional grant funding, user fees are projected to be $990 annually, Harrington said.
But with grants, the rate would drop to $650 annually — just $50 more than the current rates.
“We’re hopeful we can break ground next year,” Harrington said. “It will allow us to expand our hamlet, and invite businesses and new homes, which is a good thing.”
WORKPLACE IN TRANSITION
The Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) received $248,364 to help bankroll a regional network of public, private and nonprofit partners across the region as part of the Adirondack North Country Center for Businesses in Transition, a $373,130 project.
The proposed new center “will provide the soft infrastructure to supply matchmaking, resources and services for transferring ownership” to help the local businesses currently owned by Baby Boomers who aim to retire over the next several years, according to the grant announcement.
Between 10,000 and 16,000 businesses are expected to shift ownership within the next 5 to 10 years as their aging owners transition out of the workforce, said Jacob Vennie-Vollrath, a regional advocacy coordinator with ANCA.
Generally three scenarios tend to happen:
Businesses can be sold to a private investor; transitioned within the family, or sold to employees who can develop a cooperative-type model.
The worst-case scenario is that the business is liquidated and communities are stuck with empty storefronts.
“We want to keep those businesses open, and the way that collaboration is going to work is we will work one-on-one with these individual businesses,” said Vennie-Vollrath.
The center aims to reach over 4,800 businesses and retain approximately 1,440 jobs in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.
ANCA plans to hire 3 to 4 people who will provide “boots on the ground” in each communities by working with local business owners.
“This is unique for our region and developed specifically for our region,” said Vennie-Vollrath.
The grant will begin Oct. 1 and is a three-year program.
On the legislative side, U.S. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has introduced legislation that would benefit businesses transitioning to employee stock ownership plans in a visit to ANCA headquarters in Saranac Lake in May.
The Town of Inlet was awarded $352,000 to construct a communications tower to provide cell coverage to Raquette Lake, Eagle Bay and Big Moose.
Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber said while the lack of modern communications was once alluring to city residents seeking to escape the grind, it’s no longer a tenable concept.
“The reality is the need for cell service in the Adirondacks is becoming more and more notable,” Farber told The Sun.
The lack of coverage puts businesses in the rural Hamilton County getaway at a competitive disadvantage, and entrepreneurs are reluctant to invest owing to an inability to “connect with their target audience, create a social media presence or build a following, and for the inability to offer these services to guests and patrons,” said the news release announcing the grant.
Inlet is on the front lines of what Farber referred to as the “next big technology gap.”
The lack of coverage can also be a deal-breaker for visitors who rely on smartphones for work, or even for families whose children would revolt at being cut-off from modern technology during a family trip.
Old Forge, located about 10 miles southwest, has ample cell coverage, and retailers have been fielding an increasing number of complaints from visitors about the patchy and non-existent service, Farber said.
“The comments are getting more and more negative, and the economic impacts revolve around cell service,” he said.
And there’s also the public safety issue, including the ability to call 911.
With the grant funds announced, Inlet can now move forward in the permitting process with the property owner, with construction likely to begin next year.
“This is something we’re aggressive about,” Farber said. “We will work with the town to make sure we move forward on this project.”
Additional projects that received funding include $250,000 for a proposed Lewis County Education Center, a joint effort between Jefferson Community College and Lewis County to boost advanced agriculture and value-added farming.
The total cost is $4,250,000.
SUNY Canton received $111,326 to purchase and renovate the vacant former Jubilee Grocery Store in Canton and create an “Entrepreneurship Accelerator, which will provide entrepreneurs from the campus and the broader community with resources, mentoring, and space to start their own businesses.”
The NBRC, which President Trump targeted for elimination in his budget proposal earlier this year, is designed to aid rural communities along the northern border.
Funding recipients last year included the Town of Plattsburgh, which received $500,000 for clean water infrastructure, and the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, which received $500,000 for infrastructure upgrades and to establish a new business park near the Watertown International Airport.