THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS LEFT MUCH IN ITS WAKE. THE WORD SOCIAL SEEMS UNFINISHED IF IT ISN’T FOLLOWED BY THE WORD DISTANCING. BUT NOT TOO CLOSE — SIX FEET APART AT LEAST. FOR MANY OF US OUR HOMES HAVE BECOME OUR WORKPLACE, ALL IN AN EFFORT TO DEFEND US FROM AN INVISIBLE, POTENTIALLY LETHAL, ENEMY. THE PATH TO SUCCESS FOR BUSINESSES IS BEING REDEFINED.
But life goes on and, in the spirit of business advocacy and good news, we bring you the story of The Development Corporation of Clinton County, one of the unsung organizations that has been instrumental in plotting a course for the region’s success. TDC has been around since the early 1960’s. It owns and operates industrial parks in the greater Plattsburgh area which is ranked one of the top three regions of its size for economic potential in all of North and South America.
Currently at the helm of TDC is David Champagne, a long-time contributor to its mission through his service on its Board of Directors. In early 2019 Champagne was wrapping up his job as Managing Director of Strategy and Transitioning Sites for Pfizer in Rouses Point and looking forward to a slower pace. When the Board’s search for a new president and Chief Executive Officer fell short, he put his retirement plans on hold, changed his seat at the table and leaned in. “April 1st 2019 was my first day as CEO,” he shared during a recent telephone interview with SB.
Champagne is aware of TDC’s rather elusive reputation. “Chances are, unless you are involved with industry in the region, you may not have heard of us and that’s okay. We’ve been perfectly happy operating behind the scenes, but recently we have begun working to help the community develop a better understanding of who we are and what we do. We are not trying to compete with the commercial real estate developers in our area. Our goal is to add value to the region and that’s good for all of us. Our mission is to foster industrial development. On a spreadsheet we may look like a landlord but our goal is to create quality jobs.”
PROUD TO LEAD
Champagne’s roots run deep in the North Country. His mother’s maiden name was Kehoe (Think Kehoe Administration building on Broad Street in Plattsburgh). His father was the director of CETA (a 1960’s workforce development agency) and the JCEO of Clinton County. He has six siblings and a B.A. in Political Science from SUNY Plattsburgh.
His more than 12 years at Pfizer, along with his service on the TDC Board, allowed him to hit the ground running. “My experience at Pfizer taught me how to facilitate growth and success across a wide and varying array of areas including business development,” he explained.
When Champagne took over, one of the first things that struck him was the technology the staff had been working with. “It was all desktop computers,” he explained. “I wanted to change that, and so as things needed to be replaced and updated, we went to laptop computers. I knew increasing flexibility increases morale and consequently productivity.” By the end of 2019, TDC had transitioned the office to be able to work remotely. He also hired a Digital Marketing Specialist to allow the organization to maximize its exposure in an ever-changing economy.
Currently TDC has a vacancy rate of only 2.3% in its buildings and, while that’s a lot to be proud of, Champagne isn’t looking to pop the bubbly just yet. “My priority is to make sure we are doing whatever our tenants need right now. Most of their businesses are furloughed, and the border closure has had a huge impact on our Canadian tenants. It’s a lot to process for everyone.” The serendipitous timing of the integration of mobile work stations has enabled TDC to embrace the “work from home” transition seamlessly and Champagne is proud of how that enables them to act as a resource for tenants. “This allows us to continue support for our current and prospective clients while adhering to government mandates.”
Champagne is proud of TDC for a variety of reasons and the Board may well be at the top of the list. “Our all-volunteer Board, which is comprised of local business leaders, makes us what we are. Without them we would be just another industrial park,” he emphasized.
IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
TDC plans to break ground for a 60,000 square foot building project in the spring. The building doesn’t have a tenant yet but is being built “on spec”. It will be ideally seated geographically and benefit from the support TDC and its relationships can offer. According to Champagne, “The building is designed to be flexible. It will be able to be subdivided, and the fit-out can be completed to whatever specifications a tenant is looking for.”
FACING THE FUTURE
While no one can minimize the impact of the pandemic on the North Country, least of all Champagne and TDC, their forward momentum is food for the optimistic soul. At the close of our recent interview Champagne urged, “If we continue to be smart about how we interact with one another, apply patience and ingenuity to the way we work and remain optimistic, we will come out the other side of this pandemic stronger than we were before.” Wise words!