Colin Read: Everybody’s Business Press-Republican
A friend lamented that, given all the troubling clouds on New York’s horizon, there is a lot to be grateful about here in Clinton County. Thank you, Margot, for that timely reminder.
In this age of New York State dysfunction, it would be easy to throw our hands to fate and sit back as we witness the demise of the Empire State. Perhaps such a dance with fate is the only reasonable response to an unreasonable situation.
If we take a fatalist approach, though, we ignore the wonder that surrounds us all. That would be tragic. Let us take a moment to enumerate some of these wonders, and some of the minor challenges we must overcome to allow them to bloom in full glory.
I moved here from Alaska, via Connecticut. People ask me if I miss the beauty and grandeur of Alaska. I tell them that this area reminds me more of Alaska than any other state, except perhaps the mountains and rivers of Montana. The drive through the Northway may well be one of the most beautiful Interstate stretches in the country. And, a drive on Route 3 from Plattsburgh to Watertown is as interesting as any I have ever seen.
Nobody can take that combination of beauty, grandeur and nature away from this region. Those attracted to the mountains and lakes, skiing, boating and fishing, and the four seasons will find few comparable regions anywhere in the world. It is easy for us to forget about these bounties when we live them day in and day out. It would not take long to miss them, though, if you ever found yourself somewhere else.
Another one of Clinton County’s great assets is Canada. The mere internationalization, of outlook, of employment, of economic diversification, is invaluable, even if we take it for granted. Only a tiny fraction of the world’s population lives 20 minutes from another nation. And few regions anywhere in the world have learned to benefit from this relationship as has Clinton County.
Mike Dier, an economist from Glens Falls, briefed some local business people about the strength of economies along the Northway. He marveled at the robustness and resilience of our economy here. We agreed that this economy is steady — able to move up somewhat with the gains realized elsewhere and also enjoyed here, but not falling back with the great busts experienced in other states or even other parts of our state. I am willing to take the subdued good if we don’t have to suffer the bad.
Our history and our people are wonderful assets. This is the only location upon which major battles between two English-speaking nations have ever occurred — twice. The Destination Master Plan recognizes this illustrious, if perhaps under-appreciated legacy. It is true that we very much appreciate our heritage in wonderful celebrations once or twice a year. However, our substantial history could be celebrated every day, as they would at a Virginian historic site. Those who put so much work into the vision of the Destination Master Plan understand this, and have rolled out a gift for us all.
Our people, too, are unique. This community is almost completely free of large egos and ruthless competitors. We are a community where people put their personal interests aside, accept others for what they have to offer, and roll up their sleeves to make this community our community. There is a remarkable sense of cooperation and collaboration among many diverse groups and individuals. The excitement of shared vision is palpable. Of course, we take it for granted. However, if we saw the infighting and jealousies the erupt in other communities, we would not want to sacrifice our community energy for many other places in this country.
Let me give some other examples of institutions that exceed their grasp. We are truly fortunate to have a true newspaper in this town that rivals newspapers for regions five times our size. Our Chamber of Commerce is the model of chambers anywhere, with a degree of success and reach that rivals chambers 10 times its size. From the weight of his past accomplishments on our behalf, chamber President Garry Douglas can open doors just about anywhere. This is a treasure.
We sit on a lake every bit as great as Lake Ontario, Clinton Community College is the little college that could, while SUNY Plattsburgh does more than we know, and also has much more potential, and the hospital here is the envy of any rural area as isolated and diverse as we are.
We have wonderful artists who now have an Arts Center that has even greater vision. We will soon have a gorgeous restored historic theater that will be the showcase for our community talents, from musicians to muses, performing artists to prognosticators of our future. The Strand will be a gift to our hearts and minds, and hence our souls. Its value cannot be overestimated, and its value should not be underestimated.
And, the trail, ah the great Saranac River Trail. I have spoken in the past that this will be the strand of water that knits us all together. It will start as a walkway for wanderers, a playground for parents and their children, and as an early evening lane for lovers. It will become appreciated as one of our greatest assets, a place that we will bring visitors to our homes and will surely bring job candidates we hope to bring to our community.
These assets I cite either are or will be the items we tell people about when we want them to move here or want them to visit us. They are the assets we expect others will celebrate. It is useful for us, once in a while, to ponder them ourselves. After all, this community is us, and we should not take ourselves for granted.
So, damn the torpedoes that will be fired at one another across the state in these difficult economic times in Albany. In Clinton County, it’s full speed ahead — at least if we keep our eyes on our prize and don’t let egos, hubris, defensiveness and self-centeredness get in the way. Our gift is each other and the bounty around us. It is important to remember that when change is a-coming.
What we say: The community of Clinton County — “We are modest folk here in the North Country. The wonderful things around us many of us have enjoyed all of our lives, as have our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We don’t toot our own horn, and we don’t really let the nail stay too far above the board. However, we realize our lifeblood is not only who came before us, but who we want to follow us. They need a reason to believe in this region, and we need to offer them that reason. Against our natural instinct, we must be willing to appreciate what we have, imagine what we could have, and follow a new and exciting path. It will require vision and change. But, change is inevitable for all in New York. Our lament is that change is much better when we develop a vision that guides it rather than follow the edicts of those that would impose it on us.”
Colin Read is a professor of economics and finance and former dean of the School of Business and Economics at SUNY Plattsburgh. His fifth book, “The Rise and Fall of an Economic Empire,” published by MacMillan Palgrave, is now available. He also runs an economic and business consulting company where he can be reached at www.economicinsights.net.