CANTON — St. Lawrence County's 2008 economic news wasn't all bad.
Thirty-one businesses worked with the county's Industrial Development Agency to make investments totaling $117,603,554 last year, according to the IDA's annual report. IDA assistance in the form of Local Development Corp. loans and micro loans, Greater Massena Economic Development Fund loans, and Workforce Investment Board job training funds made up $4,186,648 of that total.
The report says IDA assistance helped preserve 542 jobs and create 131.
Raymond H. Fountain, the IDA's chief executive officer, said the agency last year spent a majority of its time helping Curran Renewable Energy get its Massena wood pellet plant off the ground, in addition to assisting Newton Falls Fine Paper and Potsdam Specialty Paper.
"We became a little less involved in large projects. There really wasn't anybody investing a lot of money, and we didn't have a large bond project last year like we do in most years," he said. "We have spent a lot of our efforts helping small businesses. Small business tends to create jobs during economic downturns."
Last year was marked by job losses at General Motors and Alcoa, Massena, the St. Lawrence Zinc mine, Balmat, the Gouverneur Talc mine and Corning Inc., Canton. That prompted the county's Economic Development Office and Workforce Investment Board staff to channel effort into helping those dislocated workers find other jobs, Mr. Fountain said. A total of 6,156 adults sought some type of employment assistance, according to the report.
Even so, he said the county's economy isn't as bad as it might seem.
"It's one of the first times in history I can remember that our unemployment level was less than at the national level," he said. "You don't wish a bad economic situation on anybody, but there are many areas of the country worse off than St. Lawrence County. Our local employers are doing well. They're not doing great, but they're doing well in comparison to others."