Originally published at North Country Public Radio by Brian Mann.
(The Thousand Islands Land Trust was awarded $110,774.00 to go towards construction of a 1.5 mile nature trail that will meander across the mainland of the Otter Creek Preserve in Alexandria Bay.)
Albany, NY - For the second year in a row, the North Country won top honors in the statewide economic development competition organized by Governor Cuomo.
The award was announced Wednesday at a ceremony in Albany. It will mean more than $90 million in additional funding and tax breaks for new initiatives. That compares with just $50 million dollars that will go to projects in New York City.
Economic developers in the North Country say winning top honors two years in a row is a major vote of confidence for the region. They also say the dollars will boost key initiatives, from new housing development around Fort Drum to tourism infrastructure in the Adirondacks.
At the ceremony in the Hart Theater, Governor Andrew Cuomo and a crowd of North Country leaders took the stage to celebrate a second major victory for the region.
By capturing a top spot in the statewide competition, the North Country won roughly $40 million in additional funding, for a total of $90.2 million.
The two men who were most jubilant on Wednesday were Tony Collins, president of Clarkson University in Potsdam, and Gary Douglas, head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
Collins said this victory sends a signal to the rest of the state that the North Country is on the right track.
"For the second year in a row, there's a lot of money that's going to come north," he said.
For Gary Douglas, one of the most important developments in this competition is a new sense of regional identity, as planners think about projects from Watertown to Plattsburgh to the central Adirondacks and the Champlain valley.
"I think what [state officials] have taken the greatest note of is the unprecedented spirit of cooperation and mutual support across the seven counties," Douglas said.
He noted that a year and a half ago, when the council program was formed, many economic development leaders in the North Country "didn't know one another."
The North Country's planning effort doesn't focus on particular industries or mega-projects, the way some other regions have done.
Instead, the last two years have seen a wide range of smaller initiatives. This year, one of the biggest line items is funding and tax breaks for two housing developments around Fort Drum.
Those efforts add up to around $5 million.
The second largest chunk, roughly $2.5 million, will go to create a tourism investment fund designed to spark new construction of hotels and other infrastructure.
Jim McKenna is with the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"We have a lot of examples throughout the Adirondacks and the North Country where we get visitation, but there's no really place for [tourists] to leave money. Overnight lodging is really the backbone of what's needed."
Another big winner yesterday was the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, which won a million dollar grant to build a new nature walk. Stephanie Ratcliffe is the organization's director.
"This is an elevated walkway, an extension of what the Wild Center already does. We're going to take visitors outside. We're going to take them up into the trees," she said.
Other projects include a natural gas pipeline for the IP paper mill in Ticonderoga, new broadband funding for the Adirondack region around Long Lake, and funding for the Lyons Falls mill in Lewis County.
Kate Fish, head of the Adirondack North Country Association based in Saranac Lake, said the extra funding sends a signal about the region's potential.
"I think one of the biggest, most significant things about hte North Country winning best plan award two years in a row, it changes our attitude about ourselves," she said.
"We feel like now we matter in the state. We have huge assets that are recognized. I think that's a change in the last couple of years."
There are a couple of caveats to yesterday's big win. For one thing, a sizable chunk of the North Country isn't sharing in this victory.
Washington and Warren Counties were lumped in with the Capital District's economic council and for the second year in a row, that region's plan won far less funding.
Which means projects like expansion of the Davidson Brothers Brewpub in Queensbury won't be in line for the same level of incentives.
The North Country's council also hasn't yet tackled some of the most controversial issues, including the debate over funding for the so-called rooftop highway, and possible funding for a tourism train through the central Adirondacks.
"There was no project proposal for [the train]," Douglas said. "We would respond to a project if and when one was put forward."
But sorting out those thorny issues is a challenge for another day.
For now, the North Country is celebrating the fact that New York state will be sending a huge influx of cash to the region, hoping to boost private sector investment and jobs.