The North Country Chamber of Commerce recently released the results of its Annual Issue Survey, providing a snapshot of the collective position of the North Country business community on a number of state and federal issues as well as an indication of its business expectations for the current year.
Each year, the Chamber gauges the region’s Business Confidence Index, which is a combination of those expecting their business activity to grow this year and those expecting their business to remain steady. For 2018, 75 percent expect business to be up while 21 percent expect it to be steady for a Business Confidence Index of 96 percent. This is up 3 percent from last year’s index of 93 percent, with a notable shift of 8 percent from the steady to growth indicators.
We see several factors supporting this optimism and confidence, including 59 percent expecting the national economy to grow this year, the highest such confidence expressed in years. We also continue to enjoy an historic wave of good news and major investment in the area, including the launch of Norsk Titanium with construction of the new facility this spring, continued investment and progress at Plattsburgh International Airport, the opening of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing at Clinton Community College, the state’s $10 million investment in down- town Plattsburgh, our continued strength in drawing Canadian visitors and spending, significantly lower unemployment and our recognition once again as one of the top 10 Micropolitan Cities of the Future in North and South America by fDi Magazine.
The North Country Chamber also sees the index as a sign of continued confidence in the strategies and work of our area’s economic and work- force development team, including the Chamber, the Development Corporation, the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, the North Country Workforce Development Board, Empire State Development, CITEC, the Workforce Development Institute, Clinton Community College, CV-TEC, SUNY Plattsburgh, Clarkson University, our area IDAs and our partner officials at the federal, state and local levels, among others.
There are, in my view, two matters overhanging this justified sense of confidence which require and have our attention.
One is the atmosphere of uncertainty around our crucial U.S.-Canada economic partnership as NAFTA negotiations continue in a bumpy manner. Having, at worst, no harm done at the end of this process remains critical to what is without question the single greatest driving force in the North Country economy.
The other is the growing stress confronted by employers in meeting their workforce needs. This is a national problem and one which has no “solution” or silver bullets. In my view, it is a complex management challenge we must work on in a multi-faceted way without imagining we can reach a point of balance and satisfaction but hopefully achieving improved conditions here and there which can avoid discouraging growth and investment. We start with a rural region that has workforce support systems and assets few other areas our size could hope for, and a tradition of partnership that should help us to maximize what is possible. But the challenge will require even more work and strategic collaboration than we have already seen and constitutes a “new normal” which will be continuous in the years ahead.