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Ogdensburg seeks economic development answers

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OGDENSBURG — While a new sense of opportunity and growth is spreading through other parts of the north country, Ogdensburg is on the outside looking in.

Thanks to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Consolidated Funding Application process, through which regional councils distribute state economic development funds, public incentives for private business development are strategically distributed.

When the North Country Regional Economic Development Council released its list of state-funded priority projects in September, it scattered its focus across the seven-county region. Of the three projects slated for St. Lawrence County, none appears in the vicinity of Ogdensburg.

That comes on the heels of last year, when only one project, construction of the Port of Ogdensburg access road, was in the city.

Now, Ogdensburg officials are seeking ways to attract more economic development money.

City Manager John M. Pinkerton said local government alone is not enough to create economic development. The city needs help from agencies such as the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority to move forward.

“We’ve met with the OBPA, and we’ll continue to meet with them,” Mr. Pinkerton said. “We want to coordinate what efforts they’re doing with what we’re doing, build synergy and hopefully come to some successful conclusions.”

The city also is seeking help from the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, Mr. Pinkerton said.

“We are reaching out to all the entities in our area so we can put together a game plan that works for everybody,” he said. “I’m happy to admit that they are amenable to all this and we’re going to be able to put some stuff together so, as a group, we maximize our chances for success.”

One difficulty is that Ogdensburg no longer has staff in City Hall dedicated to economic development. The position was lost with deep budget cuts over the past decade.

In recent years, the role has fallen to different departments and even the city manager’s office, said Andrea L. Smith, interim director of planning and development.

“All department heads work together towards economic development,” she said. “It is a collaborative effort. Everybody shares responsibility.”

The City Council left $35,000 in the 2012 budget to revive the position, but took no action to hire someone.

Mr. Pinkerton said Ogdensburg has submitted one grant application, for further assistance with its ongoing planning and development of former waterfront industrial sites.

“We’re trying to spearhead development on the waterfront,” he said. “I don’t know where the application stands.”

Ms. Smith said a portion of the grant would go to improving signs at the city’s gateway at routes 68 and 37.

“We’re looking at signage and ordinances and at our options for a transition area between the city and the town of Oswegatchie,” she said. “We’re in conversations with town officials. Everything has been very positive so far.”

In the meantime, Mr. Pinkerton is trying to figure out how to tailor his pitch to the Regional Economic Development Council’s strategies.

“We do plan on getting in touch with the folks at the NCRDC, especially for community development, and find out from them where we fit into their priority projects,” he said. “Going forward, we want to have our ducks in a row and apply intelligently and effectively.”

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