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Massena BDC director resigns

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MASSENA - Jason A. Clark is ending his five-year tenure as Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena executive director.

Mr. Clark informed the BDC board of his resignation during an executive session on Thursday night. His last day will be Aug. 16, and he plans to assist the board of directors with the interview process for his replacement.

“I look forward to working with you during our transition period and throughout the rest of my career to ensure that Massena is able to capitalize on its potential and recover as the industrial and commercial hub of the north country,” he stated in his letter.

Mr. Clark said the timing was right for his departure. In his letter, he stated a “personal desire” to work on “larger, more macro-projects, particularly those that involve infrastructure development and international commerce.

“Frankly, once you have worked on a $4 billion project such as the development of the Interstate 98 corridor, it is only human nature to gravitate toward projects of similar scale and significance,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

He could neither “confirm nor deny” on Friday he would be hired for a job related to those issues. Mr. Clark has served in a volunteer capacity as chairman of the Northern Corridor Transportation Group, the entity largely responsible for marketing the proposed Watertown-to-Plattsburgh I-98 project, in recent years.

“There’s a lot of reasons for the timing,” Mr. Clark said. “I think things are going to work out very well.”

Mr. Clark’s tenure as director had garnered both praise and criticism. He pointed out the BDC had worked on several projects during his tenure.

It finished a marketing video touting Massena’s assets, led the charge on a downtown revitalization initiative and helped re-establish air service at Massena International Airport following the collapse of Big Sky Airlines. He also oversaw the pre-construction and engineering of a spur, which will bring rail access to the Massena Industrial Park, scheduled for completion later this year.

“I’m very pleased with the direction things are moving in,” Mr. Clark said.

He also said his efforts secured nearly $1 million in grants for Massena and were “directly responsible for or intimately with involved the creation of nearly 60 jobs and the retention of 200 more.” He could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon on what those jobs were.

“I have also assisted nearly two dozen local companies during their successful start up or expansion process,” he wrote. “There have been scores of other projects that I have assisted that have not materialized for a variety of reasons.”

BDC Board President Daniel S. Pease said he had first heard of Mr. Clark’s departure two weeks ago.

“I knew it was percolating,” Mr. Pease said. “We both agreed it might be time for a new direction for both the board and Jason.”

The BDC board hired Mr. Clark in March of 2007.

“From the beginning, we felt we’d be lucky if we kept him for three years,” Mr. Pease said. “We appreciate his effort and the energy he has put into developing the village and town of Massena.”

There was no “single event” which prompted Mr. Clark and the BDC to part ways, Mr. Pease said.

“It was a continuing conversation that led to his resignation,” he said.

The move comes after months of tension between Mr. Clark and some elected officials in town and village government, including Mayor James F. Hidy and Supervisor Joseph D. Gray. Both questioned whether Mr. Clark was spending too much time on the interstate project and not enough in attempting to attract companies and jobs to economically struggling Massena.

In January, Mr. Hidy publicly demanded Mr. Clark’s resignation from BDC. Such criticism was unrelated to his decision to leave, Mr. Clark said.

“That’s completely independent of anything going on currently,” he said.

He said such criticism was partisan, and it “is what it is. For better or worse, that’s something that is inherent in the north country,” he said. “If you look at what the BDC has accomplished, it’s easy to see that a lot of this criticism has been baseless.”

In his resignation letter, he said he believed he had refrained from participating in partisan politics.

“While I have been highly active in the political process in order to be successful with much of what we have been able to accomplish, to my credit, I have not been partisan,” he said. “Partisan rhetoric, with specific respect to economic development in Massena, however, has likely taken a toll on the entire community.”

Mr. Hidy said little about Mr. Clark’s departure.

“On behalf of the village board, we wish him well,” Mr. Hidy said,

Mr. Gray said any past criticism of Mr. Clark was now moot.

“I think Jason was well-intentioned and energetic,” he said. “As I made no secret of, there were times I disagreed with the direction he was headed.”

On the 57th day of Mr. Clark’s tenure in 2007, General Motors announced the closure of its Massena plant. For 18 months of his tenure, Alcoa idled much of its Massena East facility.

Mr. Clark said Massena has shown its resiliency after suffering such economic blows.

“Massena has evolved a lot over the course of the last five years,” he said. “In all the challenges we’ve faced, we’ve overcome them all and continue to move forward.”

Board members Crista Makdouli and Larry Ralston deferred comment to Mr. Pease.

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