By Garry Douglas

In recent weeks, we learned of two significant numbers, each important to where we are in 2022.

First, the State Labor Department released updated unemployment rates for the area, showing that Clinton County was at 2.7%. This is unprecedented. The area had been in the three percent range at times, but never in the twos.

Then, the Chamber released its 2022 Business Confidence Index of 90%, with 71% expecting their business activity to be up this year and another 19% expecting it to remain steady. This was close to the last index finding in January 2020 — ahead of the pandemic and its shut-downs — when 73% were expecting business to be up.

Getting back to an optimistic, pre-pandemic place in terms of expectations was highly welcome. And it makes sense, with high employment in turn supporting strong consumer spending and sales tax receipts, growth in our area manufacturing activity and expectations, continued strength in the real estate and construction sectors, and success in drawing visitors and investment from downstate and elsewhere as our border remains restricted.

At the same time, however, the pandemic exacerbated a number of challenges, reflected in strong responses by the regional business community to our 2022 Issue Survey.

60% of area businesses indicating that staffing shortages are directly limiting their hours or operations, causing a loss of business.

96% want state workforce development programs to finally become more employer-driven, flexible and region-specific in order to be more helpful. And 83% call for more state and federal support to enhance access to affordable childcare as an essential part of meeting workforce needs.

98% call for the U.S. and Canadian governments to urgently focus on coordinated planning and progress toward normalization of U.S.-Canada border crossings — the #1 federal priority.

97% say it is important that rising inflation be brought under control, with a substantial 78% saying that rising inflation is negatively impacting their business.

96% say it is important that more be done to address national and international supply chain delays and problems, with 71% saying supply chain challenges are directly impacting their business.

98% support renewed state commitment to closing remaining broadband and cell phone service gaps in the North Country, the top priority this year at the state level.

It’s all a good combination of a strong and positive base with clear identification of the major concerns that we need addressed. And we are actively advocating for progress on these and other North Country needs in Albany, Washington and Canada.

Garry Douglas is president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.