POTSDAM — Clarkson University has launched an initiative to bring development to the Adirondacks by helping people work from home. The way they see it, you could make your front porch your front office.
The college's goal is to get 2,019 telecommuters online, in and around the Blue Line, by 2019.
"The Adirondack north country region has a strong commitment to its environmental focus and role on a national level. But at the same time, we want to know how we can start to address the economic situation," said Kelly O. Chezum, Clarkson's vice president for external relations. "This is a way for people to make a creative lifestyle choice by making their home their workplace, while still being passionate about the environment."
The college began brainstorming the initiative when Clarkson alumnus Elmer Gates, who is originally from Blue Mountain Lake, approached President Anthony G. Collins about his vision for development in the park.
The 1950 graduate thought there had to be another solution to keeping professionals in the area, and he came to the conclusion telecommuting seemed like the answer.
So Clarkson started the Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work. With Mr. Gates's help, it recently founded a business center in Blue Mountain Lake to provide people with access to the Internet, phones and fax equipment as well as a meeting room.
"The Adirondacks for many years have been the gateway to our campus, and also our backyard paradise," Ms. Chezum said. "So much of the economic development there has been in the tourism area, and this is a way to diversify."
Nearly 10 percent of Clarkson's 35,000 alumni either hail from the Adirondacks or have a home there now, Ms. Chezum said. The college has been in contact with some of them about helping with its initiative and hopes to attract more support.
According to the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project, 40 percent of residential property is owned by people whose primary residence is outside the Blue Line. The study also suggests that the median age of Adirondack Park residents is 43, making it one of the "oldest" population regions in the entire country, just behind Florida.
"There is an out-migration of young families and an in-migration of semi-retired and retired persons," the study's executive summary says. "Sparse populations and regulatory practices have contributed to a lag in private sector investment of broadband communication and data transfer infrastructure."
In other words, if the park is interested in maintaining healthy year-round communities, it needs to attract and maintain young professionals. That's where Clarkson hopes to help.
"Our pristine location and the unique character of the communities that share the park with wildlife and recreation enthusiasts alike are our greatest assets," Mr. Collins said in a statement. "Working wired in the 'forever wild' is a creative lifestyle choice that complements the natural environment that we all embrace."
The college is sponsoring a survey and market study to gauge interest in telecommuting. Clarkson will host its first annual "Forever Wired" conference Sept. 8 to help connect professionals with the resources they need to get started.
"The opportunities to tap into the knowledge economy are going to be huge, probably more so than the technology sector going forward. The Internet now is almost like a roadway as infrastructure," Ms. Chezum said. "We need to get people to think about this as a lifestyle choice."
To that end, Clarkson also is launching a marketing campaign encouraging people who love the Adirondacks to make the area their home — and their workplace. Their advertisements feature a bear and a raccoon working away on laptops from the comfort of a lakeside dock.
"It's a start," Ms. Chezum said.
ON THE NET
Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work: