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Together We Are Stronger

Updated: Nov 27, 2023



Moderator: Justine Parkinson | Photos by Ty Kretser

For the 33rd consecutive year, area business leaders met in early December to discuss what had happened in the North Country business community during the year. The event was hosted by Herb and Mary Carpenter, publishers of Strictly Business.

Herb welcomed everyone assembled in the MHAB Conference Center and then passed the baton to his son, Michael, president of The Northeast Group of companies to introduce the participants. Mike’s admiration for each attendee was as vast as the strides he took to cover the room. When an event has as long standing a reputation as the SB Forum it begins to take on a bit of a “family reunion” feeling. Mike’s jocular introductions yielded to spirited and guided discussions. I was fortunate to be the moderator at Table 5. The participants were:

Matt Boire; President/Broker, CDC Real Estate Inc Michael Cashman; Supervisor Town of Plattsburgh Elizabeth Goerlitz-Coryer, CEO and Co-Founder, Coryer Staffing Corporation Kasey Kirk, President/CEO, UFirst FCU Molly Ryan; Executive Director; Clinton County Industrial Development Agency Joel Wood, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Director of NAmTrans, North Country Chamber of Commerce

Our group was a composite of born and raised in the North Country, to folks who came from elsewhere and stayed, and returning natives. One thing was constant, — whether the North Country had always been home or if it is just home for now, there was clearly a willingness to collaborate and see how we can work together to build a better community. Build stronger, build better and continue — in the words of a famous area advocate – “Onward and Upward.”

Our participants were excited to share that 2022 in review was solid to ascendent. Each table had representatives from different segments of the area’s economy. What is most interesting about that from a moderator’s perspective is the interest attendees show to others businesses. They genuinely want to hear how everyone else is doing. The demonstration of interest in and support for one another as a community is one of the things that makes the North Country special.

All in all, attendees had a good year. Wood had a number of efforts that he pioneered in support of NAmTrans, all of which benefited from the opening of the Canadian border. “We successfully hosted two of our largest supply chain events - our Quebec-New York Transportation Rendezvous & B2B event in March and “How NYS Keeps the World Moving” in Corning, New York with our partners at FuzeHub in September.”

In support of instate collaboration, Molly Ryan shared: “The Clinton County IDA had a very strong year in 2022; with the closing of the Champlain Hudson Power Express Project among several projects including TDC buildings and other solar projects. Our financial status is strong. The IDA welcomed the hiring of a new director and launched a new website.”

Goerlitz- Coryer explained their Plattsburgh agency has grown, and has opened a brick-and-mortar location in Essex, Vermont.

Kirk shared that UFirst has been able to absorb the shifts in member needs and is enjoying seeing members back in the branches again.

Most attributed their successful year, at least in part, to the reopening of the northern border. When our table got to tackling economic development, the consensus was that our region does a phenomenal job embracing the synergy that can only be achieved when we collaborate as a region. Wood contextualized how the region embodies this sense of partnership, “In other places across the country there seems to be a tendency for economic development agencies to silo themselves or compete with one another. That doesn’t happen here in the North Country.” He recognized Matt Boire and CDC Real Estate as invaluable advocates through commercial client consultations.

Boire may be humble, but his regional acumen is an asset that can’t be overstated. “Many of our region’s success stories over the last 25 years includes interaction and involvement from the Chamber of Commerce, county and state governments, the federal government, colleges and universities, private business, and more. This does not just happen. It is why we are unique here. It took a great deal of tough discussions to reach this point. It is important to remember that parochialism can only harm a region.” Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman agreed and summed up the discussion, declaring that while other regions compete for a project, the North Country has embraced working as a region and has found and created value by working for the same project. The model allows for each contributing agency to specialize its skill set and bring that specialized service as a value added to the region to support sustainable growth.

Once the approach to economic development had been shared, and the value of the regional approach had been agreed upon, the discussion turned to work force development. Boire commented, “The North Country has many of the necessary strengths to continue to build upon our prosperity. Key players like Garry Douglas and many others have worked arduously to get the appropriate players to the table to work on overall goals for the region. We still have plenty of hurdles to jump, but we should be proud of the tough steps we have taken. Collaboration will help us work on the current problems we have.” Ryan explained that while the IDA isn’t directly impacted by workforce challenges, it supports initiatives that address some of our challenges such as North Country Neighbors, Childcare Taskforce, Authentic STEM, CVES training initiatives” et al.

Elizabeth Goerlitz-Coryer shared her support for the regional approach. “In order to create a prosperous future, we need to continue to attract world class companies to the area and invest in the training and education to build a compatible workforce.”

Kirk emphasized the importance of employee retention. “It can be just as important and sometimes more important than recruitment. Developing more partnerships will help our community grow. Employers and employees alike all want what is best for our community.”

All agreed on the importance of diversity and inclusion in our workforce and our community. Some called on the politicians in the room, and at the table, to create programs/incentives for companies to hire non-traditional workers.

Others acknowledged the very real impact that pandemic learning has had on the soft skills necessary for career success. Wood and Goerlitz-Coryer shared feedback from area employers that suggests an absences of basic communication skills. Soft skills, by popular definition, are different from hard skills. Hard skills are your education or training. Soft skills are more organic and unique to the individual. That said, the pandemic protocols put in place to keep us safe really impeded a cohort of jobseekers. Introducing yourself, teamwork, adaptability, critical thinking all are built on communication. Our discussion rounded out, but didn’t really wind down. Every participant was interested in what the others had to say, how they could help and expressed their willing to participate in finding solutions, embodying the principle that together we make each other and our community better.

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