Two of the greatest assets we have here in the North Country are people and location and both have proved beneficial to our manufacturing industry. The North Country’s proximity to Canada and location on the corridor connecting New York City/ Albany to Montreal has attracted companies and jobs to our region.
Retired Empire State Development (ESD) Regional Director Roseanne Murphy said that in her 20-plus years working in the North Country, “The most important thing that I experienced was the partnerships with the economic developers, with the community, with government officials.” Murphy came to the area from Utica in 1992, less than one year before the announcement that the Plattsburgh Air Force Base (PAFB) would close.
In 1993, the Base was recommended for closure by the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission. As it had originally been slated for expansion, not closure, the recommendation came as a shock. Redevelopment of the Base was predicted to take well over 25 years, and many braced for what seemed to be an inevitable economic decline. The North Country, however, had other plans.
Federal, state and local officials quickly mobilized to form the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation (PARC) to spearhead revitalization efforts. Shortly thereafter, Empire State Development was contacted by the Canadian railcar manufacturer, Bombardier Transportation, that was interested in setting up a location in the U.S. It was somewhat of a “harmonic convergence,” said Murphy. “Manufacturing evolved into transportation because the market became available.”
MONTREAL’S U.S. SUBURB
The North American Center of Excellence for Transportation Equipment (NAmTrans) is a strategic subsidiary of the North Country Chamber of Commerce that was formed in 2015 to serve and support the region’s Transportation Equipment and Aerospace Manufacturing cluster — now comprised of over 50 companies across the seven most northern counties of New York State.
NAmTrans Director Joel Wood stated, “Understanding that the North Country was a natural gateway to the U.S. for Canadian and global manufacturers, the North Country Chamber and its partners saw the potential to capitalize on the success of attracting companies like Bombardier and Wabtec (Vapor Stone Rail Systems) in 1995 and 1998 respectively.
“For the past 25 years, the Chamber and its partners have worked day-in and day-out to form strong bonds and relationships with Canadianbased companies and organizations, and to draw even more investment from Quebec and beyond. This has resulted in the development of not only a multi-faceted, internationally recognized hub for transportation equipment and aerospace manufacturing, but a diverse North Country manufacturing sector that also includes companies that specialize in plastics, lighting, tile systems, bioscience, and so much more.”
Wood continued, “Our manufacturing sector has been, and continues to be, strategically developed to be diverse, so as to ensure that our area is not dependent on a single type of product or equipment and so it can always remain strong during inevitable business cycles and periods of contract instability.”
TDC IN THE NORTH COUNTRY
“The evolution of manufacturing in the North Country has been interesting,” said David Champagne, President and CEO of The Development Corporation (TDC). “We have always had a strong manufacturing presence from companies like Imperial Wallcoverings, Georgia Pacific, and Wyeth/Ayerst. As manufacturing businesses closed, downsized or left the area, the region has been able to re-invent itself.”
The Development Corporation is a private, not-for-profit corporation that was formed in 1961 to help attract businesses and jobs to the North Country. TDC develops industrial parks and markets the county for new business investments and works to retain and expand local industry.
TDC owns and operates two industrial parks in Clinton County — Air Industrial Park and Banker Road Industrial Park, both in the Town of Plattsburgh — that contain 18 multi-tenant buildings totaling 650,000 square feet of industrial space. The 30 companies in TDC’s parks employ around 1700 people. TDC also owns nearly 100 acres of buildable land.
TDC is governed by a board of directors that includes business and community leaders in Clinton County. Rod Giltz, Chairman of Northern Insuring Agency, has been a member of TDC’s board for more than 40 years. Giltz observed, “TDC has been wildly successful at attracting businesses that create good jobs.” He noted that the late Senator Ron Stafford was instrumental in securing several grants that helped to get TDC off the ground. “The corporation is as well off as any business in this county,” Giltz said.
Crossborder Development Corporation (CDC), established in 1981 by Mark Barie to assist North Country and Canadian companies expand into the U.S., is currently owned and managed by Matthew Boire. Its focus is on economic development in the North Country and attracting new companies to the region, particularly those from Canada.
“The region’s continued focus on assisting Canadian manufacturers get their products across the border or establish a presence here has helped to make our market stronger and more successful,” Boire explained. “When a large manufacturer like Nova Bus chooses Plattsburgh, the benefits are huge for the whole region. They not only bring suppliers with them, they purchase from local companies and hire local people. This helps the entire area and fills commercial and industrial space.”
Canadian businesses also require help from Customs brokers, transportation companies, third-party logistic providers, banks, insurance companies, real estate agencies, plumbers, electricians, and many other service providers. The expansion of Canadian companies into the North Country “lifts all boats,” Boire said.
30 YEARS AND COUNTING
Efforts to attract companies to the North Country would be somewhat futile without adequate infrastructure in place to support them. In the years following the PAFB closure, the region received help from the federal government. Giltz recalled, “Good leadership and government support at the local, state and federal level combined were able to make things happen.”
“Today we have Bombardier and Nova Bus that act as anchor businesses for a transportation hub in the region. Probably the biggest difference from 30 years ago is the development of the transportation cluster with several supporting businesses in the region. These businesses collectively make up a very strong manufacturing sector not only for the North Country but for New York State,” Champagne said.
COLLABORATION KEY TO SUCCESS
The officials have all provided avenues for businesses to set up in the North Country at a time when manufacturing is struggling within the USA,” Champagne continued. “Our challenge is not to become complacent and to keep creating a space for higher tech companies to continue to consider the North Country as an option and hopefully move their operations here. This can only be done by providing both quality facilities and a skilled workforce. All parties in the North Country understand this and are working hard to make it a reality.”
“The economy is changing and manufacturing is changing too,” Murphy said. “Businesses have to be able to adapt and we have to be able to train the workforce.” She noted that the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing at Clinton Community College is a great resource for businesses to develop new and more efficient techniques to train employees. The North Country “is a really good place to have a business and to grow a business,” she concluded.