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Massena BDC may redefine executive director role

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MASSENA - It’s a transition period at the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena, and board members are using that time to re-focus their efforts.

The BDC has been without an executive director for a little over a month; Jason A. Clark resigned Aug. 16 and began his own consulting firm. Since then, the board and administrative assistant Linda Williams have filled in the gaps, President Daniel S. Pease said.

“We’ve all become a lot more involved in the day to day operations with the loss of the executive director,” Mr. Pease said. “We had a pretty good idea of what Jason was working on. We haven’t found any secrets.”

A board committee spent a portion of Friday interviewing several candidates to replace Mr. Clark. Mr. Pease said the board could be ready to hire a new executive director by its October meeting, depending on how the interviews go.

“The board recognizes this as an opportunity to re-define the executive director,” Mr. Pease said. “I don’t think we’re at a point yet to determine what those roles are.”

Mr. Clark had previously focused on siting a rail spur in the Massena Industrial Park, working with a consultant to develop a strategy to revitalize downtown, creating a marketing video and attending trade shows. At Thursday’s meeting, board member Larry Ralston proposed his successor no longer spend time networking with politicians.

Mr. Clark, a former Democratic candidate for state Assembly, had previously drawn the ire of Mayor James F. Hidy for attending Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s state of the state address and political functions and for spending too much time marketing the proposed Watertown-to-Plattsburgh Interstate 98 project.

His replacement should become more proactive introducing Massena to the businessmen and women creating jobs and operating companies, Mr. Ralston said.

“Identify them locally. Identify them regionally. Identify them beyond our regional borders,” Mr. Ralston said. “Identify them individually company by company. Market Massena as the place to establish or expand or relocate their business.”

The St. Lawrence Industrial Development Agency, with its larger staff, can handle the political end of economic development, he said.

Opinions differed on Mr. Ralston’s idea.

Board member Ronald J. Bacon agreed and said the board should be able to set the executive director’s agenda.

The board previously had questions and concerns about how Mr. Clark spent his time, Mr. Bacon said.

“We all fully believe he was spending too much time in areas we were trying to steer him away from,” Mr. Bacon said. “We should be able to get control of that as a board.”

But Mr. Pease and board member Paul Rufa saw value in maintaining political connections.

“If it’s not for the politicians, you’re not going to get the businesses here,” Mr. Rufa said.

Mr. Pease said he expected the BDC will hammer out its expectations of the new executive director as it evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. In the meantime, the volunteer board has come together to keep the BDC’s mission going, Mr. Ralston said.

“There have been differences of opinion,” Mr. Ralston said. “When we discuss it, we all walk away friends.”

The board unanimously voted following an executive session Thursday night to increase Ms. Williams’ pay from $10 to $12 an hour. Mr. Ralston said the increase was merited in part because of the extra workload she has assumed in Mr. Clark’s absence.

“She’s putting in an awful lot of time and assuming a lot of extra responsibilities,” Mr. Ralston said.

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