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OBPA marketing study explains problems, opportunities for north country

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OGDENSBURG — A recently released report suggests Northern New York’s economic weaknesses and threats are too great a burden for any one authority or municipality to hoist.

An Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority-sponsored marketing plan suggests conditions in the north country are responsible for difficulties in attracting economic development.

Bruce M. Hoch, managing director of DCG Corplan, a West Orange, N.J., strategic planning firm, delivered the report to the authority board of directors Thursday.

Mr. Hoch said attracting business to St. Lawrence County is difficult because of transportation and quality of life drawbacks, such as a lack of health care options, entertainment venues and dining options.

“Quality of life here lags behind other areas,” he said. “Quality of life attracts industrial investment.”

Though the original intent of the study was to produce a plan for the Ogdensburg area, Mr. Hoch expanded the report’s scope to include St. Lawrence County and its surrounding areas.

Development throughout the north country is hindered by its isolation, but Mr. Hoch noted that Ogdensburg is the only American market to serve Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec within six hours of trucking time. He urged the authority to develop relationships with French-Canadian investors.

“I think you’re missing out if you’re not targeting Quebec,” he said. “With the French-speaking Canadians comes cultural flavor.”

Mr. Hoch suggested the authority encourage bilingualism on signs and in businesses around the region.

To take a more holistic approach to fixing an economically broken area, Mr. Hoch suggested the formation of a county agency to coordinate economic development.

“I think this is a bigger problem,” he said. “You’re going to need help. Get the colleges in here; get the hospitals’ administrators.”

Samuel J. LaMacchia, OBPA board chairman, expressed surprise at the scope of the plan.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “There are some ideas we never thought of.”

The study, which grouped Ogdensburg and Massena as a so-called micropolitan area, also found seven economic sectors that show the most potential for success in the north country based on location, competition and available natural resources.

The authority could boost agribusiness in the area by promoting a specialty food brand that could be identified with a north country farmers cooperative. Mr. Hoch also suggested that the authority bring an international food marketer to meet with area farmers and that more refrigerated or frozen warehouse space be developed to ease the shipment of products through the Port of Ogdensburg.

He also urged the authority to coordinate with Clarkson University, Potsdam, to explore development of biomass energy, building new power plants or converting old ones to run on wood byproduct, hay product or garbage — three things plentiful in Northern New York.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for the use of those products,” he said. “The steam from power generation winds up doing other things — like creating ultra-pure water suitable for a variety of tech uses.”

The inexpensive energy produced by alternative fuels would help the authority attract more industry to the area.

Mr. Hoch also turned his attention to tourism, suggesting Ogdensburg could become a retail destination for Canadian shoppers owing to the weakness of the American dollar and the recent easing of Canada’s duty-free rules. He warned the authority, however, that Ogdensburg or Massena would never become a tourist destination like Lake Placid and Alexandria Bay.

“You aren’t going to win the battle for the tourists’ dollars, except maybe in retail,” he said.

Instead, Ogdensburg could use its proximity to major cities in Ontario and Quebec to become a target for certain cross-border services, such as health and wellness, logistics and transportation. That means transportation links to the city must be improved, Mr. Hoch said.

“If I-98 never happens, we’re not going to have any other great transportation options other than air cargo and extending passenger rail,” he said.

The marketing plan supports a large truck stop near the international bridge that could use the free-trade zone to sell discounted fuel to long-haul truckers. Mr. Hoch also urged the authority to consider developing a riverboat cruise port on the St. Lawrence River.

Finally, historical and cultural resources around the north country should be preserved and reused, including a redeveloped Fort de La Presentation and a newly built Amish museum village similar to Amish attractions near Lancaster, Pa., and in northeast Ohio.

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