MASSENA - The candidates running for the 21st Congressional District in November differ slightly in their views on how to fix St. Lawrence Countys broken economy.
Republican Matthew A. Doheny, Watertown, and U.S. Rep William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, nevertheless traded jabs Thursday over the regions high unemployment.
Mr. Doheny, during a stop in Ogdensburg, blamed Mr. Owenss support for health care reform and the Obama administrations tax proposals for the districts job losses.
We have in the current district over 5,200 people out of work who werent out of work when he took office in 2009, Mr. Doheny said. The answer is not more regulation and higher taxes.
Mr. Owens said his support of health-care-reform measures should help put more people to work in a growing health-care industry.
One of the areas where we have the largest job growth in the district is health care, so rather than being a job killer, its been a job creator, he said. Youll find health care is an area where there are a significant number of unfilled jobs.
Facilitating cross-border commerce with Canada and working to attract Canadian businesses are two major keys to spurring economic growth in the county, both candidates said.
Mr. Doheny said if elected, he would make St. Lawrence County economic development a priority.
I would say that to the other counties in the district, because there is a true challenge here, he said. You have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. We have to change that now.
He said trying to rebuild a manufacturing base should be part of the equation, but the county also needs to focus on telecommunications and technology jobs.
Mr. Owens said the primary focus on the economic front should be to fill existing job vacancies. He said across the district, there are roughly 3,000 unfilled positions.
Weve had meetings with economic development folks in St. Lawrence County about the jobs that are unfilled and open in that county, he said. We are pushing Alcoa to hire local people for the work theyre doing at the plant. You may have noticed theres a picket out there today. We think they should be hiring local folks.
The growing biofuels industry could also be a boon to the countys job prospects related to forestry and timber harvesting, he said.
We have to enhance that industry because we have plenty of inventory in St. Lawrence County and the surrounding counties, Mr. Owens said. We have to do things that will help business and the environment. Were obviously very disturbed by the unemployment rate, but were working on things that are very practical to bring jobs to St. Lawrence County.
Part of the responsibility that comes with holding the congressional seat should be selling the district as a hospitable place to do business, both men said.
You have to be the salesman-in-chief, Mr. Doheny said. Its a crucial part of the job. You have to have policies from a federal perspective that will unlock opportunities for businesspeople and entrepreneurs.
Ive been involved in economic development for 25 years, Mr. Owens said. I used to volunteer for the chamber of commerce locally to make sure we were recruiting businesses in our communities, and I think thats an important part of what we all should be doing.