By Garry Douglas
Each year, the North Country Chamber of Commerce conducts a survey on a number of timely state and federal issues. And at the same time, it takes the pulse of the regional business community about its area expectations for the year ahead, asking if they expect their business activity to be up, steady or down. We then combine the numbers saying “up” and “steady” to create our Business Confidence Index.
The last few years have seen us reach the stratosphere in the vicinity of 90 percent. This year, we wondered, with little progress on last year’s key concerns such as inflation and workforce shortages and with a possible recession ahead, if we might see a notable decline. But the usual perspective and resilience of North Country business came through again, with an 80 percent Business Confidence Index showing we did indeed step down from the peak, but remain at a high level with a great view.
A majority of 51 percent expressed anticipated growth this year in spite of everything with 29 percent expecting steadiness. Notably, this leaves just 20 percent expecting their area business to be down while at the same time 69 percent expect the New York State economy to be down and 71 percent are pessimistic about the national economy. This belief that we are better off here than elsewhere is further reinforced with 62 percent saying they believe if recession occurs, our area is better positioned than most.
We believe this reflects our strong regional character of resilience going back to Base closure, but also the fact that we are in the right businesses for growth no matter what, including green transportation equipment production, outdoor recreation in the Adirondacks and the growing strategic opportunities with Quebec which we are poised to facilitate and benefit from, including green tech and strategic minerals, not to forget cross border logistics.
But the warning signs continue as well with 63 percent saying that workforce shortages are impacting their ability to do business and grow, with 34 percent saying this crunch has become worse in the last year. In terms of addressing the shortage, they are telling Albany and Washington to avoid more costly mandates on employers as they struggle through this period, to provide more support for workforce availability and to assist with growing challenges to workforce availability such as affordable housing and childcare.
And there is strong 86 percent support for immigration reform by Congress that includes enhanced legal immigration to help meet all sorts of labor shortages in many different economic sectors including hospitality, healthcare, agriculture, engineering, and manufacturing. We can and must do many other things to gain greater value out of our existing regional and national labor pool, but in the end, we are confronted by having too few people and knowing that legal immigration has always been America’s #1 engine for growth.
Not to forget our U.S.-Canada border which is also central to the North Country economy, and which has yet to fully return to the normalcy of 2019, but needs to this year. Ninety-five percent want normalization at our northern border and a shared commitment to building cross border travel in our area back to 2019 levels, from the 70 percent level we have so far restored
Onward and upward!
Garry Douglas is president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.