11:12pm

Tue June 12, 2012
Regional Coverage

State funding seekers get questions answered at forum in Watertown

The North Country Regional Economic Development Council is preparing for an influx of funding applications this July. Regional councils are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to distribute economic development aid throughout the state using a community-based, bottom-up approach to building New York's economy. A public forum was held by the council in Watertown last night.

 Officials from the regional council gave updates on projects funded last year and discussed the regional five-year strategic plan for economic development in the north country, created as part of this new state funding process. They also called for public input on how that plan might be tweaked.

Council Co-chairman Garry Douglas said the strategic plan is important because individual projects are judged against it for funding.

"And then that strategy now is the touchstone for anybody in the region basically applying for any kind of state grant funds," Douglas said. "They need to show how their project relates to the plan and that somehow it's consistent with the plan. That's how they will best compete for state dollars."

How to best compete for state dollars was on the minds of several people who showed up for the forum.

"What I want to do is put in solar in at least three of the towns to be able to lower their overall electric bills," said Bill Alexander, from Harrisville, in Lewis County. He's been installing residential solar panels for seven or eight years. Now he has an idea that he thinks might merit state investment. He says this kind of work could create jobs and help train a new green-energy workforce in the region.

He says he learned valuable information by attending this meeting. "I'm gonna try to meet the July 16 deadline" for funding, he said.

Also attending was Robert Campany, with the municipal consulting firm Fourth Coast. His company is working with the towns of Orleans and Alexandria on a commercial development project that would span the towns' shared border near the Thousand Islands Bridge. The groundwater in that area is contaminated, so Campany wants to see about state funding help for a public drinking water system that could support the development.

"It's a project that's real important to both towns, and actually, the whole county, because it could be a tremendous generator of sales tax revenue for Jefferson County, certainly, not to mention important jobs," he said.

Campany said after the forum he was able to pitch his company's idea and get some useful feedback about how to prepare their application. Council members said projects that create jobs, have a widespread impact and support private development are more likely to be looked on favorably by the state. That's something the advocates for the project say they will keep in mind as they prepare their application.

The council is collecting public input on the five-year strategic plan for the next several months. To learn more about the plan and to comment, go to www.northcountryopenforbusiness.com.

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