By Garry Douglas
Years ago, we created the North Country Chamber of Commerce in the wake of the unexpected and unjustified closure of Plattsburgh Air Force Base. We viewed it as a needed step in regionalizing our numbers and capacity in order to “punch above our weight” in Washington, Albany and elsewhere. The key ingredient beyond regionalization has been the creation and nurturing of mutually valuable relationships with officials and leaders of both parties in a position to impact our area. And as political relationships are never organizational, but always personal, it has been my job to establish and build access, trust, credibility, and respect with Senators, Governors, Members of Congress, State Legislators, Commissioners, Ambassadors and others.
Having accomplished this effective network building, we have chosen to use it not on behalf of the big federal and state issues of the day (which we support as partners with the U.S. Chamber, Upstate United and the Business Council of New York State), but on region-specific issues, projects and needs — the things that no one else will promote and talk about at high levels for us if we don’t do so.
May becomes a center point for these ongoing efforts each year as the State Legislature presses toward adjournment in early June and as actions in Washington need to gain traction if progress is to occur this session.
Timely visits to both Washington and Albany are a mainstay of our efforts and so on May 16-17 we will lead our next invited group to the nation’s capital for two days of face-to-face sessions with Senate Majority Leader Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, Congresswoman Stefanik and Governor Hochul’s Washington staff. This time, our group will include representative of the Quebec Government, Plattsburgh International Airport, Alstom, Nova Bus, Norsk Titanium, Trudeau Institute, BETA Technologies, and a cross-border strategic minerals venture we are working with.
The key topics we will present will include U.S. reciprocity with Canada in dropping remaining COVID-related barriers for Canadians at our border; needed support for our region’s transportation equipment and aerospace cluster; the elimination of Customs’ user fees at our airport; a strategic proposal from Trudeau; and other impactful regional projects pending in Washington.
In Albany, we will be joined with several regional partners in “Adirondack Day” at the Legislative Office Building on May 8th, including planned participation by and interactions with the Governor’s office, Legislative leaders and Commissioners. Themes will include appreciation for continued state investment in ORDA’s sports venues, the special challenges of continuing to close broadband and cell service gaps in the Adirondacks and the heightened need for state support in developing affordable housing.
It will be an interesting month following a year-round process of outreach that will never accomplish all of our aims, but which has been effective over time and likely will continue to be.
Onward and upward!
Garry Douglas is president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.