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HELPING RURAL BUSINESSES SUCCEED

Updated: Nov 29, 2023


Elizabeth Cooper

by Karen Hailson Bouvier | Photo Supplied



The 14 northernmost counties in New York — Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Oneida, Oswego, Warren, and Washington encompass 38% of the state’s geography. They are home to 1.26 million people who live and work in the area’s 255 small towns, 14 small cities and rural areas nestled among beautiful mountains, lakes, fields, and rivers.


This distinctive region benefits the whole Northeast as a renewable energy exporter (over 95% of the electricity generated is from renewable sources) and its agricultural products account for nearly $1 billion in market value annually. Although largely rural, the area lies within a day’s drive of 90 million people and hosts an estimated nine million visitors each year. The dichotomy of maintaining the pristine environment and wildlife while growing a sustainable economy presents a significant challenge. Enter Elizabeth Cooper, Executive Director of the independent, non-profit Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) and her accomplished and committed staff.

“Our organization provides a vision that competing interests will work together to everyone’s advantage,” said Cooper. “We try to engage the entire community, the whole value chain and pull toward common objectives.”

Going on Seven Decades

Established in 1955, ANCA focuses on creating and sustaining opportunity for people with diverse backgrounds, experience and education levels. Balancing economic development and prosperity with the health needs, community identity and responsible stewardship of the environment, Cooper and her staff work closely with the residents and to find and leverage available resources to implement changes that result in long-term impact. Along the way, they explore, build, learn, and adapt and teach others the same. “These counties have a lot of small ‘momandpop’ businesses like marinas, motels, antique stores, garages, and coffee shops,” explained Cooper. “Although they may only employ one or two people, and sometimes are closed off-season, these are the hearts of the community—both for year-round residents and for folks who return for vacation year after year.” What happens when the current business owners decide they’re ready to pursue their next dream, or have trouble navigating the COVID impact or they simply want to retire? This is where Cooper and her staff are ready to help.

“Our ANCA CPR program has people we call Program Navigators who connect small businesses and non-profits with technical services to build stability. The Center for Business in Transition (CBIT), established in 2018 with grant funding from the Northern Border Regional Commission, is a partnership that includes other organizations and Community Liaisons who connect business owners with resources and expertise to support business transitions. We work with business owners to put together a sales sheet, business plans or anything else they need to help sell their business, and help the buyer transition in. Buyers are the next generation of current owners,” said Cooper.

ANCA has four program areas all focused on economic development:

• Entrepreneurship and CPR (Center for Pandemic Response).

• Clean Energy (NYSERDA programs and grants, and other NYS incentives and opportunities).

• Food systems (through their SOIL Loan Fund, they help farmers gain access to flexibly financed zero or low-interest loans to purchase equipment and supplies.

ADI (Adirondack Diversity Initiative)

Plans and initiatives for the first three areas are detailed in ANCA’s Strategic Plan 2020-2025. After realizing there was a need for diversity training and awareness, Cooper and her staff added the ADI piece and hired an ADI Director in 2019. “The diversity piece was formed with a group of volunteers ands compliments our work very well,” said Cooper.

Elizabeth Cooper, Executive Director

A current resident of Lake Placid, Cooper grew up in Star Lake, a hamlet in St. Lawrence County (according to the 2020 census, population 540). She is proud to say she was born in the Clinton-Fine hospital, the smallest hospital in New York. As a teenager, Cooper worked for Scenic Tours assisting with seaplane rides, and it was then she realized she wanted to have an impact on this “breathtakingly beautiful area.”

After graduating from Clifton-Fine Central School, Elizabeth enrolled in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and while there, learned discipline and traveled the world. Receiving her Commission in the Air National Guard, she became an Aircraft Maintenance Officer, developing leadership skills as Commander of the Maintenance Operations Flight, and continuing her worldwide travels.

Returning to the United States, Cooper earned an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a concentration in Technological Entrepreneurship and then became a Business Consultant for Accenture, where she supervised a team of statisticians located in India to develop a sales forecast for her client. With a growing family, and wanting to return to her roots, she moved to the Adirondacks, and in July of 2021 she joined ANCA.

“Logistics and business are in my background,” said Cooper. “My MBA program also had a focus on entrepreneurship. I had moved with my family to Lake Placid and was lucky that I could choose a position that interested me.”

Not surprisingly, Cooper brings real-world entrepreneurial experience to her role, having started and successfully run a coffee shop in Star Lake called Coffee Fever. In addition, she has professional fundraising experience, grant administration experience, and a passion for seeing our northernmost region thrive.

Circuit Riders: The Boots on the Ground

Describing her overall management style as democratic, but acknowledging that other management styles are valuable depending on the situation, Cooper values input and collaboration. Currently, ANCA has a staff of 27, a Board of Directors of 25, 19 supporting partners, nine state and federal partners, and eight county partners – all committed to searching for, and finding, the “nugget” that revitalizes an Adirondack community.

In terms of the organizational structure Cooper works with four Program Leads (“folks who are smarter than I am”) who then manage teams of Energy Circuit Riders — staff members in the Clean Energy Program who work with residents, businesses, municipalities, and non-profit partners to gain trust and develop programs. For example, they may offer a clean energy audit, or assist with locating grant funding. They partner with Chambers of Commerce, universities such as Clarkson, financial institutions and government organizations such as the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Their Adirondack ON-RAMP program identifies future clean energy sources and helps cities and towns develop an electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure.

Moving Forward

Always collaborating, Cooper and her visionary staff continue to create programs and initiatives to respond to their beloved communities. Housing is their latest project (according to Cooper, there are serious shortages at all price levels). They are working with the Cooperative Development Institute to pilot an initiative to explore the need and interest in the regional development of a designated parcel of land for cooperative housing.

In another innovative twist, after a very successful virtual matchmaking event in February 2022 for businesses in transition (using a dating paradigm to connect buyers and sellers), CBIT intends to conduct more of these. In short, ANCA’s ability to collaborate with all stakeholders: community members, business owners, tourists, government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit agencies, financial institutions, utilities, and environmental agencies is exemplary and making a difference.

“My staff is amazing,” said Cooper. “This is a dream job for me. I get to pursue my passion—economic development—in the area that I love and in which I have established my family.”

Elizabeth Cooper, Executive Director Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) 67 Main Street Saranac Lake, NY 12983 (518) 891-6200 www.adirondack.org

North Country Center for Businesses in Transition

The Adirondack North Country Center for Businesses in Transition (CBIT) addresses the loss of area businesses by providing matchmaking services with potential buyers, access to planning tools and connections with existing services. CBIT is a dynamic partnership between regional organizations and individuals invested in the retention of local businesses and the future of our communities. The goal is to help owners sell their businesses on the open market, complete intergenerational family transitions or convert to an employee-owned or cooperative model.

Although it is called a Center, CBIT is not housed in one location. It is staffed with a full-time coordinator at ANCA’s central office in Saranac Lake and part-time outreach liaisons throughout the region dedicated to increasing the number of successful transitions. Liaisons are on the road, using technology and collaborating with other organizations to bring assistance to communities across northern New York. These individuals have been chosen for their understanding of area business and involvement in their communities. They share co-working space with chambers and economic development agencies throughout the region; ensuring the sharing of resources, information and objectives.

If you are a business owner looking to retire or transfer ownership and you need assistance: • Navigating available resources • Finding suitable successors • Accessing capital

Or if you are an aspiring entrepreneur looking to: • Purchase an existing business • Start on a new career path leading to business ownership • Find out more about employee ownership models and opportunities ANCA can help connect you with the tools, resources, opportunities, and professionals to help you reach your goals.

North Country Center for Businesses in Transition 67 Main Street, Suite 201 Saranac Lake, NY 12983 (518) 891-6200. www.transitions@adirondack.org

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